Tag Archives: Birthday

Happy Birthday #60, Mama!

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Me and Mama when I was in 5th Grade.

Me and Mama when I was in 5th Grade.

Today has been my beloved Mama’s sixtieth birthday. She completed her sixth decade in spite of fighting a terrible battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD that saw her hospitalized for two weeks with two bouts that left her very near death’s door. More than once, I thought I was going to lose her.

Anyone who has known me more than an hour will know how much Mama means to me. She has been the one guiding star and constant throughout my life. Some people take being called a “mama’s boy” as an insult, but I’ve worn it as a badge of pride all my days.

One facet of our relationship that’s made our bond so strong is for many years at many times, we were all each other had. Mama and Daddy separated when I was five and finalized the divorce when I was eight. Today, people don’t think much about divorces but at that time (1977) in such a small town, I was the only one of my friends who entered kindergarten with divorced parents. Of course, by the time we graduated high school, several of my friends joined me on the Split Up Family Express, and I found out later I’d gone to school with other divorced kids, but I didn’t know any of them as friends so it wasn’t a great help to me.

The divorce was hard — way hard — on Mama. People didn’t know nearly as much about depression and its effects in those days as they do now. I have an early memory of sitting on her lap with her sobbing uncontrollably and I put my hands up to her face and said, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.” Today, 35 years later, when she has an anxiety attack and starts smothering, I still put my — now much bigger — hands around her face and say, “I’ll take care of you, Mommy.”

What a lot of people don’t understand about Mama and me is how much I’ve felt her sacrifice throughout my life. In the picture of us on this page, I’m in 5th grade so Mama would’ve been about 28, which isn’t too old to start over by any scale and as you can plainly see, she was a beautiful woman. She had numerous suitors vying for her affection, but she always brought me out immediately in the conversation and any man who balked hit the bricks. She had more than one man of wealth who would have loved to marry her and make her life much simpler and easy, but she always put me before herself and my happiness before hers so she never took that risk. Security was one of the wonderful gifts Mama gave me.

Of all the things Mama gave me, though, the greatest was her faith. Mama gave her life to the Lord when I was barely three and it guides her still. I have a crystal clear memory of being six years old. It was summer. We were in the first trailer Daddy and Mama had bought and put on the homeplace in Gray Court where Mama still lives. I was playing in the floor in the living room putting together Lego blocks and I heard Mama crying in her bedroom down the hall. Like I always did when I heard Mama crying, I went to be beside her, but when I got to her bedroom door something made me stop. Mama was kneeling at the foot of the bed with her head resting on an open bible, sobbing. Through the tears, I could make out one sentence over and over, “I can’t raise him alone; You have to help me. He belongs to You, not me.”

Folks, I’ll be as honest as I know how. I’ve done a multitude of things I won’t mention. I’ve been a terrible person. I’ve been drunk, high, and stoned out of my mind. I’ve hurt people and been hurt myself, but no matter where I’ve been; what I’ve been through, or what I’ve done, I’ve never been able to get that scene out of my mind. More than anything else in this entire messed up life of mine, the reason I believe there is a God, a man called Jesus, and a place called Heaven is they’ve lived in my mother’s eyes since I was three years old.

One day, maybe sooner, maybe later, I’ll stand beside a pink casket over an empty grave next to Papa John’s in Cannon Memorial Gardens. I’ll read the 23 Psalm and the 31st Chapter of Proverbs before I say a prayer for Mama’s soul, and while I am completely certain my heart will be broken into shards t0o many and too fine to number, I’ll have the knowledge that I will see her again. Until then, however, I’ll cherish every moment with her.

I love her. She’s my Mama.

Love all of you, too! Keep those feet clean.

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Another One Who Left Us Too Soon, Happy Birthday Bob-mon!

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"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."

Had he not died waaaayyyy too young in 1981, Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley would be 67 years old today. Now, I can’t say anything about Bob Marley and the Wailer’s music that hasn’t already been said by much better wordsmiths than I. Anyone who knows music knows that dreadlocks, reggae, and Rastafarianism would be pretty much unknown outside of Ethiopia and Jamaica if Bob Marley hadn’t started recording.

I don’t know about other college campuses, but when I was at Clemson University in the early 90’s, you couldn’t open a frat boy’s dorm room and not find a well-worn copy of Legend, the 1984 compilation of Marley’s greatest hits, lying around amidst a lighter or two, some Job 1.5 papers, and an empty plastic baggie or twelve.

In the decades since its release, Legend has been Certified Platinum TEN times. In America, that has earned it Diamond certification.  Just to put that into perspective, only 106 albums in the history of the RIAA have been Diamond Certified.

It’s easy to try to pass Marley off as “just a good reggae” singer, but that is damning him with very faint praise. Bob Marley was a good man and the fact that he probably consumed his weight several times over in some of Jamaica’s finest export does not tarnish that fact. He was bright, articulate, and most of all, one of the most peaceful men to ever walk the earth.

I firmly believe that if we really want to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East between the numerous warring factions, we need to stop investing in diplomacy and high tech weaponry. All that’s doing is getting people killed in droves. What we need to invest in are some HUGE SPEAKERS. We need some gigawatts of power to some major league woofers and tweeters and once we’ve got everything in place, put on “Three Little Birds” and — to quote the boys from Spinal Tap — crank it up to eleven. Peace would break out spontaneously as the gentle strains of that ultimately peaceful anthem started to roll across the battlefields and deserts.

If, and this might be taking it too far, the little birds didn’t sufficiently pacify the masses, then we would have to break out the nuclear peace bomb and drop nothing less than “One Love, One Life” on everyone. It is an undisputed fact people CANNOT act violently when Bob Marley music is playing. Even his version of the oft covered standard “I Shot the Sheriff”  isn’t at its core a glorification of violence. Sure, Sheriff John Brown ended up getting shot down, but not that blasted deputy!

I think one of the most telling aspects of Bob Marley’s character is the fact that he was father to 13 children. Notice I didn’t say he “fathered” 13 children. The difference is extremely important. At least two of the children he acknowledged as his own and whom he supported and his estate still supports today were the products of adulterous relationships by his wife. Now regardless of the fact that several other of his progeny were born to other ladies outside the bounds of wedlock, a man who would claim another man’s child as his own instead of killing said man AND cheating wife is a man of peace.

Bob Marley left us too soon. Stolen by melanoma that spread throughout his body. Even as the cancer consumed his life, it could not touch his gentle soul. Though he was a mulitmillionaire at his death, he never forgot his humble beginnings in a ramshackle record shop on a dirt street in the ghetto village of St Anne Parish in Jamaica. His final words were to his son, Ziggy: “Rememba’ Son, money can’t buy life.” Bob Marley made money. Money didn’t make him.

I think a glimpse of his gentleness is best seen from his own perspective. In an interview during the racially charged times of the Sixties and Seventies, Marley was asked about racial superiority and who he supported and what he thought of the prejudices so common then. With the wisdom of a Rastfarian sage he replied:

I don’t have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.

Irie, Irie, Mr. Marley. Irie, Irie Rastaman!

 

Happy Birthday, Norma Jean Baker, wherever you are!

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If the jackass, bed-hopping, Mafia-crossing, crooked-as-a-country-mile, love-’em-and-leave-’em, no good, four flushing Kennedys hadn’t had her killed, Norma Jean Baker would be celebrating her 85th birthday today. For those who have lived under a rock or in a hermitage or perhaps been in cryostasis with the likes of Walt and Ted, Norma Jean Baker is the birth certificate name of Ms. Marilyn Monroe, aka The Blonde Bombshell, aka “the OP” as in Original Playmate, aka the third most beautiful woman to ever walk this planet after my mama and Budge.

It’s safe to say that I am madly, passionately and forever in love with Marilyn Monroe and have been since puberty. To me, she was THE ideal body type and ideal woman. Oh yes, and for all you young (and some older) ladies out there eating rabbit food, running yourself silly on a treadmill, and sucking down bottled water like there’s no tomorrow — that ideal body was a SIZE 10.  A size TEN. ONE ZERO. Now I know some of you out there who might be Marilyn fans, even if nowhere nearly as big a fan as me, may have heard all your lives that MM was a 16 and in terms of the numbers in her dresses, that is true. However, just as my papas used to love to regale me with stories of movie dates costing a quarter with a nickle left over, things today ain’t what they used to be. What was a size 16 in Marilyn’s gorgeously voluptuous glory days would tape out today as a loose fitting size 10.

You don’t have to take my word for it though. Feel free to check it out for yourselves. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubbles, but STILL, she is a far cry from the twigs walking Sunset and Vine these days. Angie Jolie — and I love me some Angie Jo — could wear one of Marilyn’s dresses and have room for Calista Flockhart, Lindsay “Crack-baby” Lohan, and an Olsen twin to share. No, MM was curvy and all her curves were FLESH, not silicone and saline.

Just to illustrate the depths of my crush on Norma Jean, at the moment, I am typing this up on my computer whose network name is MARILYN and listening to my iPod whose name is Mini-Marilyn. Every woman I’ve ever dated has had a touch of Marilyn in her. For some it was looks and for others it was attitude. Then I met Budge and she combined all the best MM traits with a few twists of her own! Somewhere down at Mama’s, I’ve got pictures of my all time favorite car I’ve ever owned — a 1969 Chevy Chevelle Super Sport 396 — named Marilyn. In my younger and less rotund days, I had a blue jean jacket with said Super Sport airbrushed on the back beneath an airbrushed portrait of her namesake. I always intended to have “the dress scene” from Seven Year Itch airbrushed on the hood, but that was when I was young and foolish and had no idea what airbrushing cost. That jacket, which a crazy ex-girlfriend took and soaked overnight in Clorox, was as close as I ever got to that dream.

Hollywood doesn’t turn out stars like Marilyn anymore. I know some people say she couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag and while I admit she wasn’t much of an Oscar threat, on her worst day she was a better actress than Lohan, Hilton, Lopez, and the rest of today’s “famous for being famous” paparazzi-fodder are on their absolute knocked-out best days.

Keep trying, Lindsay . . . on second thought, just don't.

In any event, she wasn’t famous as an actress, she was famous as the ORIGINAL sex symbol. If she’s not the prototype, then why do so many actresses pay homage to her memory at some point in their careers? I’m looking at you, Lindsay.

If I had to pick the closest modern day equivalent to Marilyn, I’d go with — and you’ll think I’m crazy — is Brittney Spears. Brit’s current shape is a good match to MM’s and Marilyn and Spears share similar backgrounds. Both are from backwaters. Both got seriously good breaks and both have had their share of drama. The main difference is the press wasn’t quite so tawdry and vicious in Marilyn’s Hollywood as they have become in Brittney’s internet connect lifetime.

Of course people will disagree with me and point out that, among other things, Brittney is a better singer than Marilyn. To them, I simply say, “Happy Birthday, Mister President . . . Happy Birthday to you!” Sometimes it ain’t what you sing, it’s who you sing it to. Unfortunately, that song ended up getting Norma Jean killed . . . ***sigh***

Well, know that I love y’all. Keep cool if you can and keep those feet clean!

A Pirate GETS to 40

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My First Baby Picture, I think. I was there, but I don't seem to remember.

Aaaaannnnndddd . . . BOOM!

This is set to post at 6:19 in the Eastern USA time zone. That’s Greenwich -5 for the international set out there and for my military friends, Zulu -5.

Either way, if it works like it’s supposed to, I’m now 40 years old.

How did it come to this? Well, one day at a time, I suppose. Keep getting up in the mornings and sooner or later, you get here. It’s just seriously hard to believe. I haven’t DONE enough to be forty. When Daddy turned 40, he’d already been to Vietnam, then Germany. He’d married, divorced, and remarried. I was 20 and Nick was 8. He’d been at Laurens Glass Plant for 20 years, bought 3 homes, and put in a pool.

I haven’t done anything like that.

When Mama turned 40, I was a junior at Clemson. We’d long since completed our “Years of Wandering” and were back where we started. She’d raised me and just as she was done taking care of me she had to start taking care of Papa John, who had just had his most debilitating stroke. I don’t have anywhere near that kind of courage and strength of will. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m not half the person at forty that either one of my parents were. They have me whipped in every category. They always have.

My Senior picture. Lord, if I just knew then, etc, etc. Really, I'd settle for the hair.

I suppose I have a modest list of accomplishments. I graduated close to the top of my high school class. I made it through Tiger Town in just four years. I got my Masters of Library Science degree. I taught for nearly ten wonderful years (didn’t realize it at the time) at Woodmont High School back when it was still a small country school. I sent eight classes of seniors across the stage at the Palmetto Expo Center towards a new life.

I must have made an impact of some kind on at least a few of them because I married three sets of them and several still track me down from time to time. One happens to be one of the better friends I’ve had in a long time.

I taught a year at my high school alma mater and before the year was up, I remembered vividly why I’d sworn the night I graduated that I’d never set foot in the place again.

I lived one of my greatest dreams for four magnificent years as a librarian at a middle school in a tiny Southern town.

Every place I ever went to teach or educate, I always told myself “This is where I’m going to grow old and retire. They’ll name a building after me!” Unfortunately, my mouth eventually would write a check my rear end couldn’t cash and it’d be time to move on.

Now, I’m unemployed. I’m not sure where to move on to from here.

One lucky man; one insane young woman. August 3, 1996

I gave six diamond rings to six (well, four — you other two know who you are) very nice, kind, and pretty ladies. I made a wonderful mess of five of those six relationships and the sixth one paid me back — with compound interest — on behalf of the other five. Karma really sucks sometimes.

I must have burned off all the bad relationship karma, though, because I ended up marrying WAY above myself. Tomorrow will be sixteen years since Budge and I went on a Hummer ride through the woods at Camp Awanita in northern Greenville County. By the end of that weekend, we loved each other. The rest is history. Why that girl stays with me, I’ll never know, but the Lord above knows my heart that I’m mighty glad she does stay.

I have no children . . . at least none who have come knocking on my door yet. A handful of nights in my undergraduate years are a mite hazy, but so far, so good.

Budge and I tried for awhile, were unsuccessful and eventually resigned ourselves to childlessness. I don’t really want to pass on my crazy gene to some innocent baby anyway. As long as I have my Budge, it’s enough.

I would like to state for the record that I know for certain that I didn’t get to 40 on my own. Much as I like to act the part of the rugged, needs-no-one individualist, I know I’d never made it without a lot of really special people. Budge and Mama have taken the lion’s share of my issues. I was blessed and I DO mean blessed, with four AMAZING grandparents. Three of them have gone to a well deserved reward and one doesn’t remember she’s a grandmother anymore, but I still love her. No child / teen / young man was EVER loved as much as I was. I’ve had a lot of problems, but being loved wasn’t one of them.

Of all my friends down the years, Robby T, Duane C, and Brian C got me through some of the roughest patches  They faced shotguns, knives, bottles, razor blades, drunken rages and more and managed to keep me going when I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I was lashing out at everything — including myself. I’ll write a post soon about each of them. They each deserve it.

I had more wonderful teachers and professors in my life than I could ever list. I’d leave someone out because my memory isn’t as good as it once was and I wouldn’t hurt any feelings for the world. I do know, however, that had it not been for the DIRECT intervention of Mr. Mills and Mr. Linville at LDHS 55 in 1989 during my senior year, I’d have been expelled and probably had my life ruined.

Forty years old and I can honestly say I'm twice the man I once was. Of course that's in girth, but why quibble?

If I could go back, I’m just like everyone else — I’d do a lot of things differently. I’d have been a real big brother to Nick instead of some stranger who showed up at odd times for odd lengths of stay. I think of all I missed out on when he was growing up, and I could go out and hang myself. In a similar vein, I’d have forged a better relationship with Daddy if it killed both of us (which it likely would have). I’d have tried harder in school — all my schools. I wouldn’t have bought six rings and made five messes with them. I wouldn’t have worried Mama so much. I’d have tried to get help for my Issues sooner. I’d have built bridges towards people instead of putting up walls and fake facades to keep them out. I’d have tried harder to help my beloved niece by marriage have a stable life and if it pissed people off, oh well.

Yessir, I’d have done A LOT of things differently. All the computer screens in all the world don’t have enough pixels to list all the changes I’d make.

But I can’t. We only get ONE shot at this life, Shirley Maclaine’s beliefs notwithstanding.

So if you’re reading this and you’ve been the victim of one of my rages or idiotic faux pas, please accept my apology and know that I probably beat myself up over it more than you could possibly imagine. On the other hand, if you’re one of the multitude of people who’ve given me a hand or a smile or a kind word over the years, thank you. You may not know it, but more than once a smile from a stranger or unexpected call from a friend was the only thing that kept my head on my shoulders instead of being sprayed all over a wall somewhere from a gunshot. You helped, even if you didn’t know it.

So, I’m forty. I’m going to eat chick pea chicken tonight and go out celebrating my birthday AND Budge’s Saturday birthday tomorrow night. I’m going to take it easy for a few days and see if I can make some kind of plan for the next half of my life. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Love y’all and, as always, wash those feet!

A Pirate Looks at 40 – part deux

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Anyone doing any self-reflection must eventually follow Bunyan’s hearty Christian into the Slough of Despond and face his regrets in life. For my personal regrets, I am in the same class with Ol’ Blue Eyes and The King who sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.” Well, that’s half right I suppose. I’ve got a few more than a few, but only a few are still keeping me up at night. Most are the garden variety “woulda, shoulda, couldas” that I think everyone faces at sometime or another unless he’s very lucky or just doesn’t care about his legacy at all.

 

For me, though, one of the biggest of my regrets is having never enlisted in any branch of the military. My love affair with the military began with Top Gun. Remember back in ’86? Back when Tom Cruise was normal and Val Kilmer was thin?

THIS is what happens when you leave your wingman.

I walked out of the movie theater after watching it twice back to back and walked straight to the recruitment office and told the sergeant behind the desk I wanted to enlist and fly jets. He smiled at me and said, “Just saw Top Gun, son?” I nodded vigorously. Then he pointed out I needed to finish college to be a pilot and it would be a lot easier to finish college if I started, then graduated, high school.

That was one jacked up piece of Ronnie Ray-gun era propaganda and I sopped it up with a biscuit! To this day, I maintain that men may weep at only three movie scenes: 1) when Ol’ Yeller dies in his movie, 2) when Old Dan and Little Anne die in the equally brutal tearjerker Where the Red Fern Grows, and 3) when Goose dies after the crash in Top Gun. If a man doesn’t tear up at those three scenes, he has no emotions at all and no woman should consider him as a suitable match!

Then, when I was a junior in high school, I fell in love with the US Naval Academy and I went balls to the wall trying to get in. I had the grades, and I’m pretty sure I could’ve passed the physical (that was a LONG time ago). Unfortunately, I didn’t have an appointment. For those who don’t know, unless you have a parent win the Medal of Honor, a member of your Congressional delegation has to appoint you to the Academy. Other than Strom the Undying, I didn’t even know a member of my delegation. So that was a dream that went by the wayside. Looking back, I think that huge disappointment was what set the stage for my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Senior Year. It sure didn’t help matters any.

After the Academy fell through, I was going to enlist in the US Marine Corp and be one of “The Few and the Proud”.

I think I'd have looked devastatingly handsome in a set of dress blues.

A car wreck took care of that. I have a mushy puckered divot in the outside of my left thigh from where a Jeep bumper took out a chunk of me. When I went to Fort Jackson for my military physical, the first thing the examining doctor did was shove his fingers right into the middle of that divot. I had just enough presence of mind not to take a swing at him as I crumpled to the floor. It’s not pain so much as it’s a weird creepy reaction but I can’t deal with having it touched. I get violently nauseous. Capt. Doc dismissed me right then by saying, “Assuming you pass Basic, you won’t pass the POW training. When you get ‘captured,’ that’ll be the point they start on. Sorry, kid, I’m just saving you a lot of trouble.”

So that’s how I ended up watching some deadly fireworks through night vision on CNN from a musty old couch in my dorm room the night GW’s daddy, GHW, started bombing Saddam the first time in ’91. Something has never felt complete about me because of that. Papa Wham was a soldier in The Big Red One. The First Infantry Division. His DD-214 reads like an atlas of the European Theater of WWII: Tunisia, Anzio, Sicily, Rome, Normandy, the Rhineland. My great-grandfather was a member of the American Expeditionary Force in WWI. I had relatives on both sides of the War Between the States. The men in my family have always been soldiers.

Daddy, as I’ve said before, went to Vietnam, and that’s the main reason I wanted to be in the military, and not just to sit around. I wanted to go to a combat zone and fight hard. I guess part of me hoped I’d either get killed in some gallant action and Daddy would be insanely proud of his medal winning son, or the experience of having people try to kill you

Every one of those flags covers someone who DID SOMETHING with his or her life.

just because of your uniform would’ve put me on level footing with him. I just have a feeling he’d think I was more of a man if I’d been shot at on the battlefield like so many of my forefathers.

Even today, if I thought I could manage it, I’d take my 12 gauge Winchester pump shotgun and head for Afghanistan tohunt Bin-Laden. It might seem a little crazy, but then again, I AM a little crazy. I don’t know if I’d find the old boy, but never underestimate the ability of a crazy, wild-eyed Southern boy. Oh my, and if I did find him . . . I haven’t ever killed anyone, but they tell me there’s a first time for everything.

It sure would make hitting 40 a lot easier to take. I’d at least feel like I accomplished something with my four decades!

More on regrets tomorrow. Man, it’s getting close.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean and take care of each other.

Happy Birthday Blake AND Sissy!

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Isn't this the MOST angelic picture you've ever seen? Please don't fall for it!

Today is an absolutely gorgeous azure-skied fall day and it is made all the more so by virtue of being the anniversary of the birth of two of my favorite people — Blake is my youngest first cousin (of course, I only have 2 first cousins. His brother Zach is my oldest) and Keri, who I like to call Sissy, is my much beloved sister-in-law. Blake is 23 today and Keri is somewhere south of 30, but I am not 100% sure if she’s the same age or a bit younger than Nick and the internet is no place to speculate!

Blake is the individualist in the family. He’s not the black sheep. If we have a black sheep in the grandchildren’s generation, it’s me. No, Blake is just very much his own person and he always has been. Aunt Cathy could always convince Zach to do what she wanted him to do in time.

Blake . . . not so much. He’s always been a bit of a maverick. Let’s put it like this, if Blake ever got in trouble, which was very seldom, it was because he WANTED to get in trouble. He’s never been a “follower” but has steadily marched to the beat of his own drum.

He took a stab at “regular college” and didn’t like it much, so he’s back home now and working on becoming certified as a medical technician is some field. It’ll suit him. He’s great with people of all ages, sizes, races, and creeds. Of course, I’m sure it would suit Aunt Cathy, though she would never admit it, for him to stay at home forever. Since Zach married a Florida Gator and moved to Gainesville to be a youth pastor, I think the house is a little empty for her liking. She might have a complete fit if Blake ups and leaves too!

I don’t think there’s much danger of that in the immediate future, however.

That's Sissy on the right and my devilishly handsome nephew, Mason (who will be turning ONE YEAR OLD just in a bit) on the left.

Sissy is my brother, Nick’s wife. She’s been a wonderful addition to the family on so many levels. She keeps Nick in line, which I admit isn’t all that hard, and she makes Daddy smile, which is considerably more difficult.

She’s beautiful, extremely intelligent, has a great personality and has been an absolutely wonderful young mommy to my nephew, Mason (also known as the new center of Daddy’s / Papa’s universe!).

I don’t know how Nick landed her just like I don’t know how I landed Budge, or Daddy landed Mama and then Teresa. I guess we Wham men are just extremely lucky that way.

I do know she’s brightened up the family dinners and holidays considerably since she’s started coming around and I’m glad she’s decided to stick around and put up with us!

So, that’s the spotlight on two of my family today on their special day. I’ve been greatly blessed to have the family I have for all these years. Certainly we’ve gotten on each others nerves on more than one occasion, but that’s all part of being a family. A good friend of mine put it like this, “If your family can’t drive you crazy, you cannot be driven crazy, but at the end of the day, they are the ones you want around you the most when things get crazy.”

How true!

Sissy, Blake, if either one of y’all read this, we love you both lots and hope you’ve had a wonderful birthday!

For the rest of you, love y’all too, and don’t forget to wash those feet!

Happy 6th Decade, Daddy!

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Daddy as a toddler.

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

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

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

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

Daddy at 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daddy at 60.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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