Tag Archives: Bad Idea

# Throwback Thursday: I Hate Summer Passionately

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This was originally posted on July 10, 2010 and, for the record, I haven’t changed my mind in the slightest.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I mentioned this fact, but I hate summer with all my heart. I realize that’s strange coming as it does from a good Southern boy, but I have two perfectly excellent reasons for despising this godawful season that everyone else apparently loves so dearly.

First of all, I am not a small man — not by a long shot. To be quite honest, I’m fat, large, obese, and several other words of varying denotation and connotation all pointing to the fact that I was born 10 pounds and 5 ounces and I haven’t missed a meal since.

Summertime was not meant for fat people. We sweat. Now some of you more proper individuals may “perspire” and some ladies may even develop a “delicate sheen.” Well, honey, I sweat buckets and right now, I’ve got the Zambezi River flowing from my hairline down my back to eventually puddle in and around my nether regions. That’s with the A/C “givin’ ye all she can Cap’n”. Any more strain on the venerable Trane and the dilithium crystals will probably blow and we’ll have to eject the warp core. If I go outside for long in this 100+ heat, you could render lard off my backside.

I hate to sweat. The only time I’ve ever CHOSEN to sweat is when I wrestled four years in high school. Then, sweating seemed to serve a purpose. Any other time, it just makes me miserable. Fat people were built for Arctic conditions. If you don’t believe me, when’s the last time you saw a skinny Inuit? (Nota Bene: “Eskimo” is a derogatory term, which I didn’t know until an exceptionally large Inuit man told me) Inuits live in the Arctic. Ever seen a svelte whale? Know why? It’s freaking cold in the ocean depths where they swim! Nature has selected against fat mixing with heat. Fat goes with cold; skinny goes with heat.

My second reason to despise summer is I am known in some circles as “The Man The Sun Forgot.” I don’t want to say I’m pale or anything, but people afflicted with albinism stand next to me to feel good about their tan. The few times I’ve gone cave exploring, my glowing body was the third emergency light source. Folks are always asking me why don’t I take off my shirt when I’m outside. The simple answer is the last time I removed my shirt outside on a bright sunny day, I got a call from Houston Space Center asking me to please cover myself because I was blinding the crew of the International Space Station and they couldn’t conduct their experiments.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I am WHITE and I am FAT. I went to the beach several years and many, many pants sizes ago and, even then, when I took off my shirt just for kicks, a big guy in a frock coat appeared out of nowhere and started chasing me down the beach waving a harpoon and screaming, “I’ve found ye at last! Thar she blows! A hump like a snow hill!” If that wooden leg hadn’t slowed him down enough for the beach patrol to grab him I hate to think what might have happened.

Now I realize many of my gentle readers have a simple solution to my lack of melanin; just lay out in the Sun a little and tan, right? Um, did you even read the first section about heat? An ex of mine once asked me to lay out in the sun with her. I told her if she wanted to break up with me, just say so. Even if I didn’t mind roasting myself like a suckling pig with pineapple rings and a Granny Smith in my mouth, there’s the little matter of blistering sunburn. During my childhood and well into my teens, the strongest SPF sunscreen was 15. I would get COOKED right through 15. It was like slathering butter on roasting corn ears.

Luckily for me, times have changed and sunscreen is now stronger. Still, if I want a decent chance at remaining non-boiled-lobster color, I have to wear Bullfrog 55 SPF and, no lie, I get pinkish through that after a couple of hours. Oh, and when I do burn, it doesn’t turn tan. Nope, most people are burn, tan, burn, tan darker. I am burn, peel, burn worse, get sun poisoning, peel some more, risk drowning in an oatmeal bath.

I’ve got a ton of sunburn stories, but I’ll tell one and let it go at that. When I was six, we had the first above ground pool I’d ever seen. Of course, Daddy didn’t bother to hook up the filter, so we had to drain it once a month to get the slime molds out of the bottom and refill it . . . but I digress. Two friends and I happily splashed around in said pool from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. I hadn’t put ANY sunscreen on, but that was okay because I had my FAVORITE shirt of the moment on just like Mama had told me to do. (Well, she did tell me to wear a shirt.)jersey

This shirt was a real, live reproduction Clemson football JERSEY. Now for those who don’t know, this was 1977 and football jerseys back in the day had a “mesh pattern” which basically means I was in the Sun on one of the brightest days of the year wearing no sunscreen and a shirt complete with HOLES all in it! Now, I have a genius IQ, but as one of my best friends used to point out, I lack the common sense to get out of a shower of rain. I figured since I wore it like a shirt, it WAS a shirt, and it would keep me safe from the ravages of the sun.

It didn’t.

When Mama came home from shopping, she called us in the house (trailer, whatever). She took one look at me and burst into tears. I couldn’t see my back so I had no idea what was wrong. This was one time ignorance was not bliss. I had developed a water blister through each one of the hundreds of holes in the shirt. The shirt was literally fastened to my back and shoulders by water blisters poking through the holes. I went and stood in the shower under straight cold well water for thirty minutes trying to get the blisters to go down.

They didn’t.

Mama finally had to take the shirt off me. Just so you know, ANYTIME your mother tells you beforehand, “Baby, I’m so sorry, but this is really going to hurt,” you can bet your britches it is REALLY GOING TO HURT. Well, with water still pouring on me, Mama took hold of the hem of that jersey and snatched it straight up over my head in one classic “skin-a-cat” motion . . . and every one of those blisters ripped open and yellowish blister fluid started running down my back. If you’re wondering, yes, I cried. I cried like a baby. My back looked like steak tartare for a week. THAT, gentle readers, is just one of the many reasons why I despise summer, why I don’t go outside if at all possible from June to September, AND why I NEVER get into a pool unless it is DARK O’CLOCK!

Keep cool and wash those feet!

Love y’all!

I-85 Take Me Home To The Place I Belong!

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It all started with a simple high school baseball game.

This post is the direct result of a memory jog brought on by reading about some random high school baseball playoff. Looking at the box score of a couple of schools I’ve never heard of took me back to one of the most confusing nights of my life that also just happened to involve a high school playoff game . . . sort of.

As Kid Rock so eloquently puts it, “It was 1989 (technically, 1990), my thoughts were short, my hair was long . . . ” My alma mater, Laurens District 55 High School, was playing for the State 4A Baseball Championship against Lancaster High School. My long-time best friend, Robby, asked me to go to the first of the three game series with him and we watched the Green and Gold dismantle the Bruins at Laurens’ stadium. The second game was the next night in Lancaster and Robby asked me to go to that one as well.

At that point, Robby and I managed to maintain what was left of our grade-school spanning friendship. He hadn’t been home from his freshman year at college long  when the playoffs in question started. He’d gone off to Clemson University while I had chosen a girl over my education and stayed home — which is another story for another time — and gone to Greenville Tech. (Spoiler alert: I came to my senses and rectified that situation in the fall of ’90.) So we agreed to meet at his house the next night about 4 and make the three hour drive to Lancaster in time for the game.

Now if you look at the relative positions of Lancaster High School and our home town of Gray Court on a map of South Carolina, you’ll probably start to wonder how in the world it can take three hours to make such a seemingly short trip. The answer — as an old man once told me — is simple, you can’t get there from here. What I mean is, then as now, NO road worth driving connects Gray Court and Lancaster. What’s more, you never ACTUALLY reach a town in the course of the entire trip there. You always “head towards” a town but make a turn before you get to the town limits. For example, in the first leg of the trip, we “headed towards” Union, but turned before we got there in order to “head towards” Chester. The upshot of it all is what looks like it should take 45 minutes to an hour of hard driving takes 3 or more hours of winding country roads through one of the most desolate areas of my home state.

Our chariot for the evening's events. Robby's looked almost exactly like this one.

We made it to the game without a hitch, riding in Robby’s high school graduation present – a frost white 1989 Chevy Beretta. It was a beautiful day full of  bright spring sunshine. Once there, we watched as Laurens was handed its hind-quarters on a silver platter by a pitcher named “Pep” Harris who would eventually play for the Cleveland Indians and the California Angels. The boy was “throwing bb’s” as the baseball expression goes and he made our visiting team look sickly and anemic, which future major league pitchers often do to their high school competition. I got to shake his hand before Robby and I packed up and headed home.

Here’s where the fun began.

See, this was in my younger and less responsible days when I preferred the company of my dear uncles James Beam and Jonathan Daniels over lesser forms of entertainment. Robby shared my love of the “family”, though his preferences ran more towards Messrs. Bartles and James. In any event, we had brought along several “family members” on this particular adventure and by the time the sun went down, most of those dearly beloveds had gone on to a new place of residence. In short, we were a bit less coordinated for our trip home than we’d be on our trip out.

We did fine until we were “headed towards” Chester. Then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear even now, we went UNDER a bridge that we were supposed to go OVER. That would have been trouble enough, but what with our relative lack of thought processing compounded by a joyous rendition of the ENTIRE AC/DC discography played on one of the first in-dash CD players I’d ever seen, we did not notice our mistake for nearly an hour.

When we realized we should have long since reached Union, we started looking for road signs. We were on a two lane road in the middle of the boondocks. Road signs were at a premium. Now two 19 year old guys are not lost so long as there is gas in the tank; they are merely taking the scenic route, so we weren’t worried. The fuzzy effects of our erstwhile uncles had worn off so we were in full possession of our outstanding senses of direction. We reasoned that “home” was to our left, so the very next intersection we found, we turned left. After spending twenty minutes on that road, we figured we must not have turned far enough left so at the next crossroads, we hung another left.

We started to feel this way after midnight.

After twenty more minutes of driving through scrub pine and cotton in the desolate northern borderlands of South Carolina, we came to another crossroads. At that point, a glance at the fuel gauge told the two of us we were dangerously close to getting lost. Unfortunately, we had not the foggiest idea where we were since this was well before a future POTUS Bill Clinton opened up the GPS system for civilian use. I hate to admit it, but we resorted to flipping a coin. The coin chose “right turn” and five minutes later we were at the chain link locked gate of an abandoned cotton mill. After throwing that particular quarter over the aforementioned gate, we headed back the way we came on what amounted to a left hand turn.

About ten minutes later, our luck changed somewhat. After two and a half hours of roaming around aimlessly in the dark, we saw our first road sign. It read “Charlotte 35 miles.” Somehow, we had managed to wander to within 35 miles of the largest city in North Carolina. We were no less than 270 degrees in the wrong direction. Undeterred, we now had knowledge, somewhat anyway, of our position. We still needed to keep going left. At the next intersection, we did. Twenty minutes later, we came to an intersection with a sign pointing off to the right reading “Charlotte 45” above some other places I’d never heard of and I’ve lived in this state all my life.

Now at that point, Robby — ever the stubborn optimist — wanted to turn left again. One glance at the dash, however, told me we were now SERIOUSLY close to being lost so I said, “Temp, let’s go to Charlotte.”

Click to enlarge!

He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “Why do you want to go to Charlotte? We need to get home.”

I replied, “I KNOW. That’s why I think we should go to Charlotte.”

He said, “Why?” I asked, “Do you know where we are?” He shook his head then said, “But what good will it do to go to Charlotte? That’s even further from home.”

Finally, exasperated, hungry, tired, and my throat sore from imitating Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I said, “I KNOW THAT DAMMIT, BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW THE HELL TO GET HOME FROM CHARLOTTE!!!!”

We turned right and headed towards Charlotte.

Along the way, about ten minutes later, we crossed a road with a sign reading “SC 92”. Before I could say anything, Robby had already slammed on the brakes and did a half doughnut turn onto that road. Two hours and a seedy gas station stop later and we were home because Robby knew what I did . . . SC 92 dead-ends onto SC 14 and SC 14 is also Main Street of Gray Court.

So the moral of the story? Don’t hang out with your “uncles” then try to drive . . . or navigate either for that matter, but if you do and you end up on the backside of nowhere, head for Charlotte because I-85’ll take you to I-385 and I-385’ll get you to Gray Court where you can stop at Mama’s and have her call me and I’ll come and try to get you home.

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

Skip Party Aftermath

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When we last left our intrepid hero (that’d be me) he (or rather I) was standing on the front deck of the Overbay hacienda eating one of the first bags of Cool Ranch Doritos to grace the snack shelf at the local Stop ‘n Steal watching my best friend Robby allowing two of our class (drivers license-less) hotties to take his car for a spin. They were on the return trip with KC in the driver’s seat and CC riding shotgun as Robby sat helplessly in the backseat. All had gone well on the trip out and now, one more turn and KC would bring the little Phoenix to a nice safe stop and we’d all go home to supper.

Only she didn’t make it.

Like most families of my childhood friends, the Overbays had that bane of a bicycle-riding child’s existence — a crushed gravel driveway. Inevitably, some of the gravel would travel out onto the black top and create a gravel slick, which could throw and unwary two-wheeler into a serious case of road rash in a skinny minute. Little did we know, it worked for cars just as well as bicycles.

KC hit the gravel slick and the front end of the car got a bit squirrelly. Now an experienced driver would have just backed completely off the gas and waited for the dust to settle. KC was not — as I have mentioned before — an experienced driver. She panicked and stomped BOTH pedals at the same time. The accelerator won out over the brake and the poor Phoenix skidded completely off the driveway to be quite rudely introduced to the sawn off telephone pole that served as the north corner post of the Overbay’s barbed wire fence.

Looked a lot like this, only there were two head prints instead of one. We drove the car to school the next day and had "KC" written over one and "CC" over the other.

As usual in these cases, time seemed to stop as the collective gasp of the party goers caused me to drop my chips and bolt towards the stairs. Once on the ground, I was joined by several other people in a headlong Jack and Jill-esque tumble towards the scene of the accident. What we found was not encouraging.

The front end of the car had wrapped its bumper around the cruel pole in a desperate lover’s embrace . . . and so did the radiator. Simultaneously, KC and CC – seatbeltless, naturally — launched forehead first into the windshield. They didn’t do the classic “shattered glass fly through” but they hit with enough force to make two NICE spiderwebs — one on each side of the glass and raise beautiful raspberry blue goose eggs on both their classically beautiful high foreheads. Meanwhile, Robby, the Phoenix’s erstwhile owner, was tossed into the hatchback where he lay on his back, feet in the air, somewhat dazed like a spring-woken tortoise newly crawled from his winter’s den.

Ignoring all first aid training and advice, we helped the girls and Robby from the car. The girls were a bit unsteady on their feet and might even have had a mild concussion. We would never know because this was a skip party and what happens at the skip party STAYS at the skip party, or at least it did in those pre-cell phone camera days. We certainly weren’t going to call the police and ambulance. At the risk of sounding heartlessly arrogant, we were the cream of the Laurens 55 High School crop (what I was doing there, I still wonder sometimes) and we couldn’t risk the hoopla and resulting brouhaha a police report would generate.

The party disintegrated just as soon as everyone realized that no one was dead or critically injured. This is referred to even to this day as the “Getting the Hell out of Dodge” procedure. Robby took the driver’s seat, I sat shotgun, and Duane folded his lanky frame into the backseat. Hopefully, Robby turned the key and the little Phoenix that could sputtered to life. Against all odds, it backed away from the pole and with the help of a couple of Raider linemen, ended up back on the road and off towards home.

This is a pretty good facsimile of Duane's dad . . . pretty much all the time.

We did have one nasty dilemma. We had to get Duane home under his parent’s radar. They were the most strict parents of our entire group — if by strict one means somewhat Stalinesque. That party I mentioned in the first act of this tragedy resulted in Duane being put on restriction for the rest of his life. He didn’t get to leave the house on the weekend until college. If his dad found out about THIS snafu, Duane would probably end up in a shallow grave somewhere. Luckily, we had always planned for just this kind of eventuality. Duane got out of the car about 200 yards from the schoolbus stop for his house. When his younger brothers got off the bus, he just fell in behind them — no muss no fuss. Duane didn’t even worry about them ratting him out. Those five boys were tight. None of them was going to risk bringing the wrath of Gray Court’s version of The Great Santini down on a sibling.

So with Duane’s continued future assured, Robby and I limped the Phoenix back to his house. He asked me if I wanted to take his motorcycle home and thus avoid the ensuing confrontation with his dad — Bobby. I told him that I’d been with him when the mess started and I wasn’t bailing now. I figured I owed to him as my best buddy to face the music with him. Besides, Bobby T was one of my greatest father figures growing up. He knew how things were with me and Mama and with me and Daddy so he always made sure I had walking around money as well as doing five thousand other little things for me that I’ll never be able to repay him for. Bobby T is a great man and I really looked up to him so I couldn’t run home like a coward and let Robby take the heat alone.

This is what we started with.

We sat across the den from each other waiting for the sound of Bobby’s car in the drive. In that eternal hour, I caught a glimpse of what a condemned man must feel like waiting for the warden and the preacher to come to his cell. Bobby got home and walked in the house all smiles and hellos like always. Robby and I realized instantly that he hadn’t seen the car. Now Bobby was the type of parent who hadn’t forgotten that he hadn’t been a complete angel as a teenager either, so he recognized our guilty looks pretty quickly. We didn’t even BOTHER trying to explain anything; we just led him out to the car. He looked at the damage, then at us, then back at the damage and just shook his head. That head shake was his ultimate mark of disappointment.

Funny though. Duane’s dad would have launched into the stratosphere. I don’t really know WHAT Daddy would have said, but I know I couldn’t write most of it on a family oriented blog. Bobby just shrugged and said, “Don’t plan on going

and 16 hours later we had this.

anywhere Saturday, boys,” and walked in the house.

I spent the night with Robby that Friday and we spent about 16 hours the next day cleaning out Bobby’s three bay garage / workshop. The Augean Stables that Herakles cleaned as his fifth penitential labor were pristine compared to this building and alas, we had neither Alpheus nor Peneus to reroute to our aid. We worked mightily fueled by gratitude and hot dogs until the floor of the shop was FDA approved. It was a learning experience for certain, but it still wasn’t the last skip party we’d have 🙂

Love y’all! Keep those feet clean.

Springtime = Skip Party

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The Indigo Girls said it best when they sang “There’s something about the Southland in the springtime!” I was just sitting on the porch looking at the living proof that God Almighty is a University of North Carolina fan — a gorgeous Tarheel Blue sky. The temperature is just about perfect and if trees had a way of reproducing that didn’t involve that fluffy yellow pollen, I could stay outside forever. I know people say that we’d get tired of one continuous type of weather year round, but I promise that if someone could invent a Claritin or Allegra pump similar to the insulin pump some diabetics wear, I’d be willing to test this time of year all year.

Back when I was in high school, a day like this would result in several feverish calls between our group’s houses, and in those days — not THAT long ago — “calling around” meant dodging parents who always answered the phone. We didn’t have cell phones, Facebook, or email. Of course, it’s just as well. I probably wouldn’t have graduated if the Internet had been fully open and operational in the middle ’80s. In any event, we’d be attempting to set up a skip party for the next day.Some people favor playing hooky on Fridays to get an early start on the weekend, but I was always the type to skip on Monday so as to put off the first of the week for as long as possible. Skipping Mondays also had the advantage of less makeup work. In a tradition I was later to continue as a high school teacher myself, Fridays were always quiz and test days. Mondays were just notes and worksheets. My teachers didn’t really care if I made up notes. Tests were mandatory though.

Our parents had differing opinions about skipping. Mama simply required that I let her know if I was planning to come down with a 24 hour bout of “spring fever.” Robby’s dad was pretty much the same. Duane, however, was forbidden to skip school under any circumstances. That meant he had to actually drive to school then walk down Raider Road a bit where one of us could pick him up. For some reason, the girls got to do pretty much whatever they wanted to — and they ALWAYS wanted to skip.

"Honey, does this new vodka taste a little watery to you?"

Skip parties were eclectic affairs. Sometimes, we’d just congregate at someone’s centrally located but somewhat off the road house and sit around running our mouths and eating another set of parents out of house and home. Later on in high school — I think we started our sophomore year — some of the more adventurous souls would score some “adult refreshment” from Mom and Dad’s liquor cabinet. Those of us who were Pentecostal or Southern Baptist usually relied on the Presbyterians or the handful of Episcopalians to take care of the alcohol needs. Pentecostal parents — like Mama — really didn’t drink and the Southern Baptist parents managed to hide their liquor stashes in much more difficult to find locations. One particular young lady who will go nameless, always brought a jar of very nice vodka . . . until she finally learned — the hard way of course — that one can only replace JUST SO MUCH vodka with water before Daddy noticed. Fortunately for her, she had an extremely cool older brother who was a Clemson University student and complete Helion and gave his baby sister carte blanche to throw him under the bus with their parents whenever necessary.

Just as a reflection though, I don’t remember our parties ever getting completely out of hand; well, except for that ONE time at Duane’s when his parents were in Europe for a week and we had a weekend long bash with over 250 people showing up, but other than that, we didn’t go for some of the insanity I’ve seen among high schoolers (and even middle schoolers) of this generation. A little liquor WOULD change the dynamic somewhat, just as it always has since Jesus turned the water to wine in Cana of Galilee, but except for a few fights that produced more bruised feelings than bruises and a strange relationship or twelve, we didn’t get nearly as rowdy as today’s bunch. Of course, our parents probably thought the same thing about THEIR generation since they were certain we were in the grip of the Antichrist.

 

Like this, only LOTS more kids.

I remember two particular incidents from those days quite well. Once, around this time in April of our senior year, a great cloud of us met up at one of the girls’ lakehouses and piled on for a pontoon ride around Lake Greenwood. About ten o’clock in the morning, I noticed Robby counting people. I asked him what in the world he was doing and he said, “look around.” I picked up his drift then. We had around 30 people divided between two pontoons and of those 30, twenty-six were in our second period math class . . . which just happened to be meeting at that very moment back at school — with a grand total of 2 people in it, if they had actually shown up.

 

The second incident was during the spring of our tenth grade year. Robby picked me up and told me we weren’t going to school, which was fine with me. I just ran back in the house and left Mama a note so she’d know what to say when the school called her after she got off third shift. Then we picked Duane up in Laurens as per our SOP and headed to the Overbays. It was a warm enough day to swim if anyone wanted to–unlike yours truly who couldn’t, and still can’t, swim. The four Overbay brothers had an awesome Olympic sized pool with no fence around it. That made one of the more interesting water sports at their house the “water walking contest” where someone would get about twenty yards back from the deep end and take off at a dead sprint right out onto the water to see how many steps he (and it was ALWAYS “he”) could take before getting pulled over by the long arm of the law of gravity.

That wasn’t what made this day special though. THIS day, Robby made the grave mistake of letting people talk him into driving his car. Robby was one of the few of us with night licenses and a car. Unwisely, he started sitting in the back while different folks took the trusty little ’83 Pontiac Phoenix Hatchback out for a spin.

A little browner than this, but a pretty good likeness.

The first ten or fifteen trips actually went quite well and it was getting about time to shut the party down anyway when Robby, in a total lapse of judgment, let Kathryn get behind the wheel with Carolyn riding shotgun.

The trip out was fine. Kathryn guided the little brown car up the gravel driveway and out to the stop sign about a mile away with no problem. She was doing great on the trip back in as well when the car skidded ever so slightly on some loose gravel at the head of the drive.

Now, keep your feet clean for a while and I’ll tell you the Paul Harvey in my next installment.

Love y’all 🙂

An Early Religious Misconception

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Nota Bene: The events and discussion in this post refer to my youth when I was younger and more foolish. I have realized that some notions I held as a much younger man were wrong at best and asinine at worst and, like most of my screwups “worst” was pretty much de rigeur.”

It has been long accepted among those who know me that I was born sans the mental “tact” filter normally present between a person’s brain and mouth. While this lack of parts has proven to be of small consequence to my general intelligence, it has been somewhat deleterious to my ability to form or maintain solid interpersonal relationships. I feel this issue to be largely because the majority of people who ask, “How are you?,” don’t really wish to know and those who ask, “What do you think?,” could generally care less. Normal people realize this disparity and speak accordingly.

I do not.

In what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “my younger and more vulnerable years,” this predisposition towards speaking my entire mind on matters in a plain, unvarnished and unrepentant manner was nowhere more apparent than my conversations with friends, family, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers on the subject of religion.

Now as a boy, my catechismical education was split by expedience borne of necessity between my beloved mother, who was a moderate Pentecostal, and my nearly equally beloved Granny Wham, who was a staunchly conservative Southern Baptist for whom the Martha Wham Bible Class at Beulah Baptist Church remains named for to this day. In strictly moral matters, Mama’s Pentecostalism was functionally equivalent to Granny’s Southern Baptistism. Doctrinally and theologically, however, their lessons with me often met at jarring perpendiculars rather than running in smoothly harmonious parallels.

One day, it is possible that I may endeavor to explore the differences between the faiths of Mama and Granny Wham that caused me no end of anguish in my formative years, but that will not be today. At present, though, I would rather concentrate on one of the few facets of their instruction that was practically identical. This rare accord extended to the dubious claim that Catholics had to salvation.

Please try to understand that growing up in Upstate South Carolina in the 1970s and 80s, I was but slightly less likely to have a meaningful conversation with a Martian than speak to a practicing Catholic. This region of the state was settled by several strains of Protestants who rode north centuries ago to escape the Catholic and Episcopalian domination of Charleston and the rest of the Lowcountry. Simply put, Catholics were as rare as screen doors on submarines. Until I went to college, I knew a grand total of ONE Catholic personally. It would be fair to say I knew more about flying a jet airplane than about the workings and doctrines of Holy Mother Church.

What I DID know, having been taught by Granny Wham and Mama, was that Catholics probably were not going to

That chalice does NOT contain Welch's grape juice!

Heaven because they didn’t pray to Jesus, they prayed to the Virgin Mary; they didn’t confess to God but to a priest; their forebears had burned our forebears at the stake; and, obviously most heinously of all, Catholics drank  ACTUAL WINE during what we called The Lord’s Supper but they referred to as Communion. Please understand that this final point had nothing to do with the fine points of Transubstantiation versus Consubstantiation. It was VASTLY more simple. Catholics drank REAL HONEST-TO-GOD ALCOHOL IN CHURCH. In my part of the South, where to be Christian is to be a teetotaler, full blood libel could have been overlooked easier than drinking.

In any event, neither Mama nor Granny would ever state unequivocally that Catholics were damned. Both had room in their theology for the forgiveness of even the most mortal sin of wine-bibbing in the House of God.  Had I confined my religious education to their lessons, I probably would have spared myself a slice of embarrassment. Unfortunately,  I was also influenced by a few radio preachers I listened to on occasion late at night when I couldn’t sleep. These men were my first encounter with Fundamentalism and at that tender and impressionable age, I sopped up their neat, accurate determinations of black and white as if it were the best milk gravy Granny Hughes could make. One point these men agreed upon — if they agreed upon little else — was that Catholics were well and truly and eternally headed for Hell, apparently on the express train. These firebrands would have been quite at home in Henry VIII’s court handing down execution and confiscation orders on the heads of Catholics.

I listened and internalized what I should not have, to my embarrassing harm.

It was sometime around my eleventh summer when I was visiting some member of the family in the hospital with Granny and Papa Wham. My memory is vague on the specifics because of what happened during the visit. This particular day, we were not at the local Hillcrest Hospital nor even at the monolithic Greenville Memorial Hospital. We were downtown at St. Francis Hospital. That would be St. Francis as in St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the poor. That would be patron saint as in CATHOLIC. St. Francis Hospital was, at that time, run by the Sisters of the Poor. Also, at that time, the Sisters had not abandoned the traditional penguinesque habits I was familiar with.

In any event, we were all crowded into this hospital room waiting to see our ailing relative off to surgery for an ingrown toenail or some other equally life endangering procedure. Suddenly, two of the Sisters of the Poor appeared in the doorway with a gurney to pick up our family member. They asked the occupant of the bed if they might pray for him before they left the room. I remember he gave his assent and it was then that I had one of those unfiltered moments I referred to at the beginning.

I said, “Hold on a minute! You can’t pray for him.” The two sisters turned to me. As I said, I was 11. They were ancient. I supposed they were 30 if they were a day. One of them spoke, “and why not young man?” Recalling both my formal Sunday School lessons at Granny and Mama’s knees AND, more importantly, what I’d heard on the late night airwaves from Brother Jim-Bob’s House of Glory Holy Tabernacle of Fire and Brimstone, I stated bluntly, “Well, aren’t you two nuns?” The spokeswoman nodded her agreement so I continued, “and that means you’re Catholic, right?” Again, affirmation followed and Granny Wham finally guessed what was coming but couldn’t reach me in time. Instead she heard me say with all the righteous confidence of an 11 year old Pauline scholar, “Well, it won’t do you no good to pray; you’ll rub your Catholic damnation off on him because everybody knows ALL CATHOLICS ARE GOING TO SPLIT HELL WIDE OPEN AND ROAST ON THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK! ”

Gentle readers, I won’t describe the ensuing pandemonium. Suffice it to say that for one of the only times in my life, Granny Wham grabbed my arm in anger and pushed me towards Papa Wham, who incidentally seemed desperate to keep a grin off his face, to have me removed from the room but not before both of the sisters managed to let it be known in no uncertain terms what they thought of my ideas AND upbringing.

The incomparable Mark Twain wrote, “A man who picks a cat up by the tail gains knowledge he could get no other way.”

With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, the moral of the story is this — should you ever have the opportunity to tell a nun either directly or by implication that she is going to split Hell wide open and roast on the Devil’s pitchfork, take my advice and no matter how tempting it may be,  just let the moment pass!

Love all of y’all, my Catholic brothers and sisters especially!

Keep those feet clean!