Tag Archives: Daddy

Freefallin’

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im-falling

It’s not the fall;
It’s the sudden stop at the bottom.

I get a sick feeling when life goes well for more than a day or two at a stretch. I see good times as a pair of steel shoes resting on the ground and as the good days stretch out, one shoe sits while the other begins to rise and gain size; the longer the good stretch lasts, the higher and heavier the shoe gets, right up to the point when the next crisis strikes and “the other shoe drops” — literally screams down at 9.80665m/sec² — thus the higher and heavier it’s gotten (ie. the longer and better the stretch of life has been) the more destruction it causes when it hits ground.

Things have been going entirely too well lately and the other shoe had gotten much too far and fat for my liking. Even though I know it’s just a construct of my imagination, I still picture it up there — waiting, looming — and I cringe as the days pile up without incident because what goes up is going to come down and the farther up it goes, the worse it’s going to be. Well, my small group leader ended the waiting and ruined supper by announcing after four great years together, our group will cease to exist come May. That sound you hear is the wind whistling through the eyelets of a gargantuan steel Air Jordan streaking earthward like the comet that killed the dinosaurs.

As I sat staring into my empty plate like a poor dumb T-Rex on the prehistoric Yucatan Peninsula all I could think of was, “It’s happening AGAIN.” What is happening again is my abandonment mechanism is going off. If you don’t suffer from abandonment issues, get on your knees right now and thank Jesus, Buddha, Ganesha, or Shiva (or Darwin for the atheists in the crowd) because of all the agonies of Borderline Personality Disorder, the one I would least wish on anyone (except Hitler, Stalin, or Mao — you know, the only three people going to Hell) is Abandonment Issues.

When I was five, Mama and Daddy started having “trouble.” By the time I was seven, they had separated; by eight, divorced. I see Daddy’s blue stepside Chevy truck driving off and me waving desperately from the front porch of the trailer as clearly today as almost forty years ago. Two key things I’ve learned at great financial and emotional cost in seven years of therapy are 1) children with single digit ages have limited ability to process emotional nuances that cause adults problems and 2) when you experience a devastating trauma at a young age, a part of you emotionally never gets any older. So, while the 43-year-old man I am knows Daddy and Mama had issues and it was best they divorce, the seven-year old still inside me just sees daddies aren’t supposed to leave, but Daddy left ME. I want to be crystal clear about something right now — this is not a “beat up Daddy” post. This is a “why I am what I am” post and the fact is, Mama and Daddy’s divorce planted the seed of abandonment in my seven-year old soul and, dear God, has it grown over the years.

For several years after the divorce, I could not stand for Mama to leave me as she might decided not to return too. I tolerated her going to work to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table only because I got to stay with my beloved Papa and Granny Wham. Otherwise, if Mama wasn’t at work and I wasn’t at school, I was welded to her hip. Naturally, this caused some problems. I smothered the life out of Mama. My mother was a drop dead gorgeous woman and she was single again at 25, but she couldn’t date because I would throw a royal fit if she left me at night. I remember one time in particular, several women she worked with begged her to go to Myrtle Beach with them for a long weekend and she finally agreed, but she knew how I’d take it so she didn’t tell me. Instead, I went to Granny and Papa’s as usual but instead of getting up at midnight to go home, I woke up on Saturday morning next to Papa Wham.

To put it mildly (and seriously, I’m not even going into the details) I FLIPPED THE HELL OUT! I screamed, cried, and thrashed but most of all, I kept repeating over and over, “She left me, she left me . . . ” I was so distraught I made myself vomit from crying and screaming. It scared Granny to death. It didn’t do me a lot of good either, especially because I had no idea where Mama was, when she was coming back, but most of all what was wrong with me. I literally COULD NOT calm down. Mama never went anywhere again without me. I sucked a huge portion of life out of my precious Mama because I couldn’t bear for her to leave me.

Through the years, that feeling of being abandoned has flared up with angry intensity on more occasions than I’d care to admit. When I was in sixth grade, the first little girl I ever had a crush on moved. That would be tough on lots of kids. I was sick in bed for a week. When I was a junior in high school, the first girl I ever was truly, madly in love with went out with another boy. Wreck. Later, when we were seniors, we went through another rough patch and ended up calling it quits for good when she said, and I’ll never forget it, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you and the good news is IT’S NOT YOURS now I guess you know the bad news too.” That one was the first time I ever made out a bona fide suicide plan and would have carried it out if Duane Craddock had not defied his parents to come to my house and take me to Amy Mims’ house at midnight so the two of them could talk me down off the ledge so to speak.

I’ve got more, but this post has already run over my 1000 word target so I’m going to wrap this one up. Maybe, if enough of you decide you’d like to hear the rest of the story, I’ll do a part two about how abandonment issues have pretty much crippled my life for years now.

In any event, know that I love y’all and keep those feet clean!

This is NOT a Movie

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enders_game_ver12Budge and I went to see Ender’s Game Saturday afternoon. I read the book eons ago and Budge knew enough that we both expected the “twist” at the end. I sat through the movie, which was beautifully shot and orchestrated, but after it ended, Budge and I walked back to the car in depressed silence.

This movie is not — let me repeat that to be clear — NOT a faithful representation of the source material in Orson Scott Card’s novel. What it is, and in spades I’ll add, is a blatant and scathing indictment of America’s actions towards foreign countries over the last two Presidential administrations.

It doesn’t bother me that the movie could have been a Michael Moore rag; what bothers me is how spot on it was in its satire in places AND how simple it was for me and Budge (who abhors politics) to pick out the director’s theme.

I don’t usually put spoilers in my movie posts, but I’m making an exception in this one, so if you’re planning to see it 1) don’t say I didn’t warn you and 2) don’t read any further down this post.

In the BOOK, Earth is attacked TWICE by “Buggers” who show every intention of returning again, which establishes a pretty good case for some type of preemptive action on the three NATIONS of the Earth. The BOOK has two important sub-plots that involve Ender Wiggins’ psychopathic brother Peter and his beloved sister Valentine. In the BOOK, we look like a species trying to defend ourselves from another eminent attack from space.

In the MOVIE, we look like bullying, Nazi-esque douchebags.

Our planet is attacked one time. The “Buggers” show no sign of coming back, propaganda to the contrary, and the globe is depicted as a single New World Order type unified one-nation entity, thereby discarding the three warring “mega-nations” that gave purpose and tension to the novel. The book is subtle in it’s Cold War political message; the movie isn’t subtle at all. Instead, the movie invokes the old saw that, “If the only tool in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Children are taken from their homes at ridiculously tender ages and sent to “Battle School” where they are pitted against each other in a series of Darwinian tasks that make The Hunger Games look like an afternoon of croquet.

The book has those elements as well, BUT in the movie, everything is stripped down. NO allowance is made for the fact THESE ARE CHILDREN, and in the end, one of those children — the eponymous main character — becomes the architect and executor of a genocide Hitler, Stalin, and Mao couldn’t have imagined in their collectively most coked out acid trips. In the movie, our wonderfully united species spends 50 years building a space-faring fleet with one purpose in mind — eradicating the “Buggers.” We don’t try to communicate with them because the bodies we discovered after the “invasion” show no vocal cords so naturally a species capable of interstellar flight couldn’t POSSIBLY have some other way of communication than spoken words.

Nope, they are different from us, they apparently don’t like us — but we don’t bother to ask them, so obviously, we have to kill every single one of them in order for our world to be safe. Does any of this sound the slightest bit familiar? If it doesn’t, turn off Rush Limburger and Sean Hennessy and think about it for a minute. If you do, you’ll see it’s a perfect picture of American foreign policy for the last 12 years.

The USA was attacked on 9-11-2001 by elements of Al-Qaeda under the influence and command of Osama Bin Laden. Quite predictably — and I think appropriately — we flipped our collective lids and beat our pruning hooks into swords overnight. All of our intelligence, indeed all of the WORLD’S intelligence, pointed to Bin Laden hiding out in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, with revenge on our minds, we gear up for a massive beat-down such as the world has never seen. We load up the transports and carriers with men and weapons and we head across the waters to kick the everloving sh . . . I mean poop out of — wait for it — IRAQ!?

W.T.F? Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda people are in Afghanistan / Pakistan. Why are we invading Iraq? Bin Laden is not in Iraq. Bin Laden is in Afghanistan / Pakistan somewhere. Yet for reasons NO ONE can adequately explain, we roll in to a sovereign nation, shoot the place up, destabilize the entire region, and ultimately kill Bin Laden? NO. BECAUSE BIN LADEN ISN’T IN IRAQ!! No, we kill Saddam Hussein, who, yes, is a raging asshole who killed his own people (with a lot of weapons he got from us in America) and turned the country from something resembling a nation into a festering bed of warring sects who hate each other AND, incidentally, HATE US TOO.

Only after we tidy up the loose ends that Dubya’s daddy left hanging in the family closet do we go flounder around in the deserts and badlands of Afghanistan for ten years and finally manage to kill the ONE GUY we’ve been looking for as he was kicked back and relaxing in our supposed “ally’s” backyard.

The 9/11 attacks changed everything. I know that. I sat and bawled like a baby for six hours watching the news after I got home from teaching classes that day. Unfortunately, they destroyed our country and no one seems to mind. The best estimate I can find is 2,996 people died in the attacks. In the Iraq War that followed — tell me why did that happen again — 4,486 American soldiers died. That doesn’t include the 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed because when everyone looks the same and there is no real front line, you kill them all and let God and Allah fight it out.

Despite all those casualties, the worst face of the Iraq War / “Global War on Terror” is the face of the soldiers who are coming home. It’s bad enough for our regular forces to have to face combat, but so many of the troops who’ve fought this war AREN’T regular forces. They’re National Guard troops who signed up for some extra money and to help fill sandbags during floods or look for missing people during a hurricane. They were never trained to go to a foreign country, meet interesting people, and kill them.

Now they are back and they are broken inside and from what I can see, no one gives a really good damn about it. THAT is what saddens me most about what our country has become and that is what’s brought to the fore so painfully in this mockery of Ender’s Game: the movie. One line in the movie says it best of all. The psych officer is confronting the main training colonel about his harsh training tactics and the line she delivers is one for the ages:

“You are turning these children into KILLERS and when it’s over and they finally get to come home you want ME to try to fix them. Well, they can’t BE FIXED!”

I lost my daddy in Vietnam . . . another war eerily similar to the Iraq War. Oh, he’s alive and probably sitting in his recliner watching westerns on tv as I’m writing this, but he went to Vietnam a 19 year old kid from Fountain Inn, SC who’d never been on a plane and he came back 13 months later and 100 years older. I never got the chance to know the man my mama and Granny Wham talked about.

And now, it’s happening again.

Love y’all. Keep your feet clean and I’m sorry I don’t know the answers or what else to say.

Daddy’s not the Cadillac Kind

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These boys sang my life story.

These boys sang my life story.

Driving home from supper last night, Budge and I heard Confederate Railroad singing their hit song, “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.” Now the boys in Confederate Railroad wrote the two songs that perfectly sum up my relationships with my parents. Mama’s ringtone from the day I was able to get mp3 ringtones was “Jesus and Mama” by Confederate Railroad; they wrote that song for me and her, they just didn’t know it. Then Daddy fits just perfectly with “Cadillac Kind.”  In the second verse of the song, the narrator is describing how he told his Daddy about buying a nice big new car. In his words, “Daddy asked how I bought it; I told him on credit, and Daddy just smiled, I’ll never forget it.” That brings to mind one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with Daddy and, this being Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell it as an interlude in my beach recollection.

So here’s what happened. I was eighteen and fresh out of high school in fall of 1989. I’d already abandoned my plan to go to Clemson University with some friends of mine and instead was working at Advance Auto Parts and planned to start classes at Greenville Tech later in the year. Each of those items is worth a story in its own right, and maybe I’ll tell them one day, but for now, suffice it to say I was in the grip of new car fever. For the last few months, I’d parked Marilyn — my ’69 Chevelle SS that would pass everything on the road but a gas station — and started driving a little Ford Fiesta, which is another story worth vignette. In any event, I was through with used cars and wanted to buy something new, so one Friday afternoon, I picked up my check from Advance and went with Mama to what was then Crossroads Chevrolet between Mauldin and Simpsonville.

What I went to get!

What I went to get!

I knew exactly what I wanted and it was sitting in the showroom when we walked in. It was a 1990 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z-28, smoke grey with factory tinted windows, t-tops, and high pro v-8 engine. Sticker price was $22,999.00, which was a ton of money in 1989.

I pointed to the car when the salesman walked up and told him that’s what I intended to buy. He opened the driver side door, got me seated, went around and got in the passenger’s seat, handed me the keys, and I was off on my first test drive ever. Five miles of curvy roads and one carsick and extremely pale salesman later, we were back on the lot and then in his little cubicle. I filled out a mile of paperwork and signed my name to hundreds of forms. Mama didn’t have to sign anything. I was so proud. He said it would be about two hours before he could give us “a decision.” So we went to eat lunch.

Right here, I need to explain something to y’all I’m not really proud of, but it is a fact of my existence. I suck at all things financial. Growing up, I never learned to save because we never had enough money around to have anything left over to save. I didn’t get an allowance, if I was with Mama, she bought what I needed or wanted if she had the money and if she didn’t, I did without. It’s where I picked up a phrase I use to this day to answer someone saying, “I want X or Y.” My answer is “People in Hell want ice water too.” If I was with Daddy, it was the same way. So I just never learned how to handle money well. I knew people got paid on Thursday and it was their job to spend it all because I figured if anything was left the next Wednesday, they’d come back and get it. I’m serious about this. To this day, if I’m not constantly vigilant, I can go through a pile of money of any size like poop through a goose and have a ball doing it. I lived with Mama and Mama’s budget was the same as what I use today. It’s called the Pile Method. You get paid, put the money in the bank, and sit down with a checkbook and a pile of bills and write out payments until the money or the pile is gone. Some weeks the money won, most weeks the pile won. To this day, I do that with only a little variation. So again, I suck at all things financial.

After lunch, we went back to the showroom where the very somber faced salesman sadly gave me the news that GMAC Financial had refused my loan application on the Camaro. I was heartbroken and he almost got to see a big boy bawl. I wanted that car so bad I could taste it. He saved the day, however, by telling me he HAD gotten me approved for another vehicle. He took the lead and showed me, at the very back of the lot, the vehicle I would drive off the lot with that day. It was a 1989 Chevy S-10 Cameo EL pickup truck — base model, sticker price $7999. Now when I say “base model” I don’t mean “no power windows” or something like that; I mean it didn’t have a RADIO — just a hole in the dash covered by a blockoff plate. No power steering, no power brakes, no NOTHING. It was a 4 cylinder 5 speed manual drivetrain and it DID have A/C, but only because GM wouldn’t ship a car below the Mason-Dixon Line without A/C and expect to sell it.

And what I got.

And what I got.

I paid $200 down and signed my name to a loan agreement of $184 per month. The salesman handed me the keys, I kissed Mama on the cheek, and took off in my new ride to show Daddy what a big boy I was. Daddy had just gotten home from eight hours at Laurens Glass Plant. He was sitting in the shade of his workshop shed and stood up when I pulled into the yard. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I was 18, which made Daddy 38 years old. I walked up the hill and asked him how he liked “my new truck!” He looked at it thoughtfully for a long moment, then turned and the conversation progressed like this:

Daddy asked me, “How much was it?” I told him, “$7999.00.” He nodded.

Then he asked, “What’d you put down on it?” I told him, “$200.00.” He nodded again.

Then he wanted to know if Mama had co-signed with me and I proudly told him she had not; I was grown and making my own way in the world. I thought I was doing well and was smiling like a bloodhound pooping peach pits. Then Daddy asked his next question.

“What’s your payment?”  “$184 per month, sir!” That brought a wince, but the next few questions almost got me killed.

“How many months?” “Um, I don’t know?” Frown.

“What’s your interest rate?” Again, I had to say “Um, I don’t know?” That wasn’t the right answer.

“So, you just bought a truck? No idea how many payments? Don’t know the interest rate? Do you have the paperwork you signed?” I just nodded. “Go get it.” I went and got it and when I brought it back to Daddy, he sat down in the door of his workshop and read over everything, which was the first time anyone but the salesman read those papers. Apparently, he found the payment schedule AND the interest rate because he looked up at me.

He didn’t look angry, he didn’t even look upset. The best way I can describe his face was the way Jackie Gleason’s face looked during this scene in Smokey and the Bandit. He said, “You are paying $184.00 for SIXTY months. That’s FIVE years, son.” I didn’t know what to say. He continued, “You are paying 16% interest! You are basically buying that truck on a credit card!” Once again, I didn’t have any idea what to say. He finished up, “You just saw a truck you wanted and the man got you in it however he could. I wish you had come to me, son, and we could have gone together.” You may notice a pattern here, but I still didn’t know what to say. Finally, Daddy just smiled the same exasperated smile Budge says I use with her sometimes and said, “C’mon. Take me for a ride in your new truck.”

Twenty-five years later, I know the interest rate of every loan, credit card, and savings account I have and it’s all because of one conversation. I also know why Daddy was so aggravated about the interest rate. See, he bought his and Teresa’s house they live in now during the height of the Jimmy Carter administration. Daddy paid 17% interest on that house and it made him hate interest in all its forms; think about that the next time you hear a commercial for refinancing at 4%!

That’s my Daddy.

Happy Fathers Day to all the daddies out there and y’all be sure to keep your feet clean!

Love y’all.

Love Isn’t Just Hugs

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I just sat down here to write after packing Budge off to Deuce’s house for the night. In the morning, the two of them along with Deuce’s mother, Connie, drive to the beach for the yearly convention of the SC Order of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ware Shoals Chapter. They’ll meet up with about ten other ladies for a week of laying in the sun by day and watching sappy movies by night. This is Deuce’s tenth year or so and Budge’s second.

It was tough watching Budge drive out of our yard tonight. I checked and rechecked the Santa Fe. She knows how to change a tire and she has a cell phone that could call the Moon if necessary. Still, with Mama being in such poor health, I project onto Budge a lot of my anxiety about impending death. It’s a morbid fact, but every time we part from our loved ones, we have no guarantee we’ll ever see each other again. That’s one reason why I’ve never left Mama without making sure she knew how much I loved her.

To try making myself feel better, I let my mind drift and it landed on the first time I ever made a long trip alone. That trip showed me a lot about the girl I went to see, but it showed me even more about how much my daddy loved me, even if he never was great at showing it.

It was the summer after I turned 16. I had my ’79 Mustang I’ve mentioned in other posts and I was off to Winterville, Georgia to see the then-love-of-my-life at her mother’s house where she’d gone to spend the summer. I was going to surprise her, but that got turned around a bit. Anyway, Mama wasn’t crazy about me going, but she reluctantly gave her permission because she knew I was at that god-awful hardheaded stage where I’d just have gone anyway. What surprised me most though, was how Daddy took the news I was going to drive 300 miles alone.

Now in my teenage years, Daddy and I would go months without seeing each other. I was still incredibly bitter about the divorce even after ten years. Also, Daddy and I are basically the same person twenty years apart. Budge thinks it’s almost scary how much we look alike, talk alike, move alike, and think alike. She’s said before that my little brother Nick LOOKS as much like Daddy as I do, but I don’t stop there. I AM Daddy . . . just 20 years younger. Those two issues made mine and Daddy’s relationship pretty rocky for much too long. Two males too full of pride to meet each other halfway. It wasn’t pretty. At times, I wondered if Daddy even loved me, although the roads and phone lines ran two ways and I didn’t use them any more than he did.

Anyway, I stopped by Daddy and Teresa’s the day before I left to tell him I was going. He nodded then helped me look over the car to make sure everything was capable of getting me to Georgia and back. We talked for a while then I got ready to go. Daddy told me to be careful then he handed me a twenty-dollar bill. It’s what he did next that flabbergasted me and has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. He took off his Masonic ring and handed it to me. He said, “Don’t put it on, because you haven’t earned it. Wear it on your chain, but if you run into trouble of any kind, you find a man — black or white — wearing one of those rings and you show him my ring and he’ll help you any way he can.”

That simple act might not sound or seem like much but it spoke into me crystally clear just how much my daddy loved me. Whams are not huggers, we don’t tend to be overly emotional at all, especially the men. For instance, my Papa Wham was the kindest, sweetest and most loving man I ever knew, but he didn’t hug me or kiss me on the cheek more than a handful of times in our life together. It didn’t change the love I felt from and for him. Daddy was the same way, but when I was young and bitter and angry, I didn’t cut him the kind of slack I did other men. To this day, I can count the number of times Daddy and I have hugged on one hand with fingers left over.

Wham men ARE Masons however. Papa passed away with his Masonic ring on his hand and his paid up lodge dues receipt in his wallet. Daddy is a Mason to this day as well, even though he doesn’t attend meeting much. I grew up in awe of the Masons and for the longest time I’d planned to become one . . . I still might before it’s all over. Daddy’s Mason’s ring was part of his hand to me. I’d never seen him take it off and here he was taking it off and handing it to me.

I realized even then this was “a big freaking deal” and as I’ve gotten older, I understand more just how and why it was. Daddy knew he couldn’t go with me. He also knew we weren’t on the best terms. Still, he wanted to take care of me as best he could, even though I’d be on my own and miles away. If you don’t know anything about Masons, you might not understand the gravity of him giving me his ring. If you DO know about the Masonic Order, then I don’t have to explain it to you.

From that day to this one, I’ve fought with Daddy. We’ve stood toe to toe and screamed at each other. Once or twice I was sure we were going to come to blows, but thank God that’s never happened. But no matter how much we’ve fought or disagreed, from the moment Daddy handed me that ring to this present one, I’ve never doubted Daddy loved me and cared about me.

I gave him the ring back as soon as I got back into town. The trip didn’t go as planned. Turns out I was the one surprised, but that’s another story for another time. What was important is the fact my Daddy showed me he’d do whatever I’d allow him to do to keep me safe and that’s stuck with me all these years.

My Father’s Day Gallery

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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.

The Thunder Rolls

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A sight you don't want to see in the middle of a large lake in a small boat.

It’s been the week for late afternoon thunderstorms around here. The last four days, around 6ish in the evening, thunder starts growling around and the wind picks up. Eventually, a log-floating, frog-choking deluge descends from the sky. The whole affair lasts about an hour to 90 minutes from beginning to end and when it’s over, the air outside is either much cooler or much more humid depending on the whim of the weather gods. It’s the price we pay for living in the South.

I hate it.

I am irrationally, completely, and utterly terrified of thunderstorms. As far as I know, I always have been. I don’t really know why. I’m intelligent enough to know how they start and what they are going to do. I know that thunder’s just a noise; lightning does the work. Doesn’t matter. Storms put knots in the pit of my stomach. It’s not the lightning or the rain. It’s the wind. I don’t mind lightning streaking everywhere and I can tolerate huge booming rounds of thunder.

I don’t do wind.

Once the trees start swaying, I look for a place to hide.

Of course, it would stand to reason that some of my most vivid memories from childhood involved storms of one caliber or another. I recall sitting by candlelight when I couldn’t have been more than four or so. The storm had knocked out power to our trailer. I remember standing outside with Papa Wham when I was still in single digits and a massive streak of lightning turned night to day for a brief second. I remember a little grey tree frog that rode out a particularly nasty storm squatting firmly on one of the sticks we used to hold our trailer windows open. I remember Mama trying to calm me down by singing “Keep Me Safe ‘Til the Storm Passes By.” Lots of storm memories. Two stand out incredibly strong.

I was four or five and playing in the backyard at my great-Aunt Betty’s house. As usual, I was completely oblivious to my surroundings until I looked up at the cotton field and saw Uncle Raymond coming down the dirt road leading out of the field like all the imps of Hell were behind him. He skidded the old red and white Ford truck to a stop in a outburst of dust and pebbles and when he jumped out, he was running and shouting, “Shannon, get in the truck quick.” I got scared for three reasons. One, Uncle Raymond NEVER came out of the fields before near dark. He always worked a full day as a sharecropping cotton farmer. Two, Uncle Raymond NEVER ran. A fast mosey was his normal top speed and he didn’t hit it often; and three, and most worrisome to me, Uncle Raymond NEVER called me by my given name. He always called me Cottontop or little man or some other pet name. Never “Shannon.” I didn’t have time to wonder much as I climbed into the truck because Uncle Raymond was already on his way back with Aunt Betty in tow. He was explaining as he hurried her along, but all I caught was one word — tornado.

At the time, I had no idea how he knew a tornado was coming, but I found out later that one of the “big men” who owned the field and drove the big cotton harvesters kept a weather band radio on loud at all times. Storms come up quickly in these parts and the last thing anyone wanted was to be caught in the middle of a cotton field with lightning striking everywhere. Lightning tends to strike the tallest object around and if you’re a six foot tall man in the middle of an open cotton field, guess what the tallest object around is?

We took off in the truck and Uncle Raymond drove us to a culvert or tunnel under the highway. He parked in the middle and I guess he could tell I was terrified, because he patted me on the head then he fixed my “linus blanket” over the back of the seat like a tent. From inside that tent, I heard the twister pass over us. You’ll hear people say a tornado sounds like a train rushing by, but that day, it sounded like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. After about an hour, we went back to the house and other than a few limbs blown down and a shingle or two off the house, everything was fine. Uncle Raymond dropped Aunt Betty and me off and went back to the field like nothing had happened. Like he ran his family from tornadoes every day.

My second storm memory involves Daddy. I was ten, maybe eleven, and he and I were out on Lake Moultrie fishing for catfish. He and Teresa, my stepmother, took me to the Santee-Cooper lakes every summer on a fishing trip for about six or seven years that I remember. Usually, all three of us went out fishing. It wasn’t unusual for Teresa to outfish us all. This particular run, though, she’d stayed in the room at the landing.

If you’ve never seen Lake Moultrie, it’s basically a big, deep bathtub. Lake Marion, at the other end of the Diversion Canal, is bigger in area, but it has a lot more islands and is generally much shallower. We were in the middle of Lake Moultrie and I couldn’t see any land. Anyway, Daddy and I were having a good afternoon of fishing and I was enjoying one of the rare occasions of him and me just being together.

All was well until Daddy looked behind us. After he did, he turned around to me and said, “Shannon, put your life jacket on.” I usually asked many, many questions, but, like Uncle Raymond, Daddy never used my name. He mostly called me “Son” if he called me anything. I put my life jacket on before I turned around to see what Daddy saw. It was a squall line all the way across the sky. In front, the sky was robin’s egg blue, but behind, it was black. Really black.

My Daddy is, and always has been to my knowledge, utterly fearless. I’ve never known him to be scared of anything. I’d never even seen him acknowledge a situation might require a little worrying. Well, I still don’t think he was scared and if he hadn’t had me with him, he probably wouldn’t even have been worried, but he knew that I hated storms and tended to panic AND he knew that I swim like a 1940 Packard Super Eight Touring Limo. I wasn’t panicked yet. I was with Daddy and Daddy wasn’t scared of the Devil, much less a puny storm . . . that was already making whitecaps on the lake’s surface. I did get a little concerned, however, when Daddy put his OWN life jacket on. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever seen him do that. Still, I was with Daddy and he was just being cautious. What he did next though, pushed me right to the edge of meltdown. He cut the rope off the anchor and lashed one end around his waist, then he took the other end and tied it snugly around my right foot.

The wind and whitecaps were picking up when Daddy started the 70hp Johnson outboard and spun the boat around. Luckily, we were running before the wind. It helped some. Daddy never drove the boat fast as a general rule, but this day, he had the throttle wide open. We were aiming at for the Diversion Canal, which was very sheltered. We’d get wet, but we wouldn’t have to worry about capsizing or hitting anything and we’d gotten wet before.

It had been a ten minute boat ride out to where we were fishing. The race to the canal took twenty, even with the wind at our backs. The last little bit, the rain hit us and, if you don’t know, raindrops feel like BB guns shooting you when you’re in a boat moving 30mph. We made it to the mouth of the canal, though and as soon as we got about a hundred yards in, the water smoothed right on out. It rained buckets and we got soaked, but we were safe. I knew the danger was passed when Daddy reached down and took the rope off my foot and smiled at me.

So there you go. I hate storms. Panic in them all the time and I’ve gotten to panic a lot lately.

Love y’all. Sorry this one was so long. I got carried away since Budge isn’t here for me to talk to!

Take care, and wash your feet, but not in the tub if it’s lightning outside!

🙂

It All Changes

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

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

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

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

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