Tag Archives: death

First You Say It, Then You Do It

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wheels-falling-offI almost died Christmas Eve, and I’m told it would have put a damper on the holidays.

Christmas Eve fell on a Tuesday so, like every Tuesday, I went to Clinton to National Health Care to check on Granny Ima and see if she would let me clean and polish her nails. Now Mama and I used to go to Columbia to spend every Christmas Eve with Granny when I was a child so in some ways, I found the whole trip ironic. Granny was happy and she smiled and said a few words, which was the best Christmas present she could give me, but she didn’t want her nails messed with, so I sat and talked to her until her CNA came to get her for lunch. Then, I kissed her goodbye, got in my truck, and headed home to get ready to go to Rob’s for Christmas Eve supper.

I bought my 1994 Ford F-150 with a little of Mama’s insurance money so it’s extremely special to me.  Anyway, as I was leaving Clinton on State 308, I called my great-Aunt Pearl (Ima’s oldest sister) to apprise her of Granny’s condition and state of mind. We were talking as I merged onto I-385 and when I gave the old girl some gas, I felt a pronounced thump. I told Aunt Pearl I’d have to call her back, hung up and concentrated on the sound.

It was an intermittent noise, which is aggravating to diagnose, and I’m not an accomplished mechanic, but I was pretty convinced it was a universal joint needing replacing or maybe an exhaust hanger had popped loose when a woman in a PT Cruiser had tapped me in the rear end in downtown Clinton that morning. I sped up to 85 mph and the noise went away. I gently applied the brakes and the noise didn’t come back. So I turned the radio back up, passed a few slow-moving cars, and continued on my way.

When I went under the State Road 92 bridge, the thump became a clunk. I had tons of ideas running through my head and all of them centered on how I was going to pay to fix whatever u-joint or exhaust hanger needed attention. I also considered the motor might be going and just about cried. I call her “Mama’s Final Gift” and I’ve become seriously attached, but all the gauges read okay so I kept on and the sound stopped eventually.

I exited I-385 and turned left onto State Highway 418 about 23 miles later and when I hit 60 mph, the noise came back. I was almost home though, so I just started the “c’mon, baby, hold together” Han Solo talk. Then, quite literally, the wheels fell off the apple cart. I slowed down to a crawl to turn right onto the road to home and saw a tire and wheel pass me. My brain had just enough time to register the thought of “that’s strange; someone’s wheel is rolling down the road,” before the left front end of the truck slammed into the pavement and the truck jolted up and down with enough force to knock my head smartly on the roof of the cab. Then an awful grinding noise filled the air and I realized the wheel in question was mine. I drove on the brake rotor about ten yards until my brain finally got the message to my foot that it was still pressing the gas instead of the brake and I stopped. Then, it hit me.

My wheel fell off my truck!

I just lost my freaking wheel!

I followed my first instinct when something crazy like that happens to me and started to call Mama, realizing just in time my long distance plan wasn’t quite that good. So I switched gears and called Budge six times and she didn’t answer the phone. It didn’t bother me though; I think I was still in shock because, you know — wheel fell off and all. In fact, some primitive part of my brain still functioning correctly posed a very good question: what was Budge supposed to do if I DID talk to her? Raise the truck with telekinesis? Realizing I had not, in fact, married Carrie White, I called Rob, my stepdad, just as he was pulling into the yard from work. I explained my predicament and he said to sit tight, he’d get Baby Huey (my 6’6″, 375 lbs “baby” stepbrother Travis) and he’d be right on.

By then, Budge had finished her shower and called me back. I think all she heard was “wheel fell off.” Ten minutes later she found me sitting on the lowered tailgate of my truck having spoken to a few friends I’d called just to pass the time. It was while sitting there calmly drinking a bottle of water the reality and gravity of the situation. The noise I’d heard coming out of Clinton was the wheel wobbling as one or more lug nuts decided to take a vacation. The second noise was the exodus of even more of these vital little hunks of metal. The terrible vibration I felt on the off ramp and 418 was the wheel wobbling on the studs devoid of attachments.

I started to shake a little. As slow as I was going as I turned onto the road, the wheel leaving still caused a bad jolt. Now, imagine for a moment: What would have happened if that same wheel had flown off while I was on I-385? wheel

I KNOW what would have happened because I’ve seen it happen during NASCAR races. The rotor would have dug into the asphalt, Newton’s First Law of Motion would have taken over and I’d have started either flipping end over end or doing some sweet barrel rolls down the highway. Since I wasn’t wearing my seat belt (they are under the seat cover) I’d have been ejected through the shattered windshield or the shattered side window, the truck would have hit me or the care behind would have run me over, I would have died on Christmas Eve 2013 and that would have sucked.

I don’t know why the wheel stayed on until I was going slow enough to survive the results. I know a lot of people would call it a neat coincidence. I don’t. See, as I was putting the wheel back on the truck, I asked myself why the lug holes in the rim were threaded while the studs were smooth. That’s when I realized the rim had ridden on the studs long enough to smooth them out while cutting threads into the rim. That’s not all; when I borrowed a lug nut from the other wheels, I discovered every lug nut was loose. Y’all skeptics think what you want and call me whatever you please, but I think Jesus and Mama were watching out for me one more time and I’m certainly thankful they were.

Love y’all and hope the new year is off to a great start! Keep those feet clean!

Life is a Circle, but not like Disney

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Nothing prepared me to be bitten multiple times by my grandmother.

kelloggwomanWhen I entered this world, I had four living grandparents AND four living great-grandparents. Granny Matt (short for Mattie) and Papa Hurley passed before I developed memories of them, but family members have told me both loved me tremendously. It’s not good to grow up with six doting grandparents; it’s not so much the danger of being spoiled rotten — which I was — so much as such excess love doesn’t prepare a person for what a terrible place the world is.

Papa Wham passed in 1995 — the first person so close to me to die. I was attending a wake for a student who’d been killed in a car wreck when my brand new cell phone rang. The first cell phone call I ever received was to let me know Papa Wham was gone.

Little Papa Hughes, my maternal great-grandfather, died on New Year’s Day 1997. He was a tiny man with a heart entirely too large for his slight frame. He was also a bit of “a character” and I have stories on top of stories about him.

Big Granny Hughes, whom Mama (and pretty much everyone) called Maggie-Valmer went Home in February 2001. I call it a testament to her life that it took three preachers — including me — to do her life justice.

After losing those three wells of my adoration, the next few years were quiet. Then Papa John died October 17, 2006. I didn’t grieve Papa’s death for 18 months because Mama was in such a terrible state I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose her as well. I can say from personal, painful experience it is dangerous to one’s mental health to suppress a terrible grief because once Mama came somewhat out of the fog, I had the nervous breakdown that ultimately cost me my job, my second career, and almost my sanity.

I came out of my breakdown just in time to lose Granny Wham on February 5, 2008. As much as I adored Granny Wham and as much as I know she loved me, her passing was easier to take. After Papa died and she became unable to care for herself or be left alone, we had no choice but to place her in a facility. My Aunt Cathy wore ruts in I-385 between Fountain Inn and Laurens going to see her mama; Uncle Larry stopped by on his way to and from the Roadway terminal in Columbia every time he had a trip; and I tried to see her at least once a week, but she missed being home tending her family. Still, miserable though she was, she soldiered on three years at Martha Franks Retirement Home.  A week before she passed I went to see her; she told me, “Mama {her mama} came to see me last night.” I knew it wouldn’t be long. Now Granny Wham is waiting on the other side of those Gates of Pearl (with Papa Wham nearby and most likely seated on a golden bench talking baseball with St. Peter).

So Granny Ima (for Imogene) is all I have left. She’s under hospice care at NHC nursing home in Clinton. I go to see her at 10:00 AM every Tuesday, and I leave a sliver of my heart each time I turn from her bed to come home. Ima has dementia. She knows who I am, who Rob is, and who my Aunt Pearl is, but she can’t say our names. All she can say clearly is “yep” and “nope.” I took Mama to see her twice a week as long as she was able, then once a week, then once every two weeks . . . then I took her when she could rally the strength, but one thing never changed — Granny always said, “My baby girl’ whenever Mama asked her who she (Mama) was. I haven’t told Ima that Mama is gone. I tell her the truth — Wannie (her name for Mama) can’t get up anymore to see her, but she loves her very much. Every time I tell her, Granny nods.

Unfortunately, though, Granny’s mind is riddled with holes and she’s lost control of her emotions (especially her temper) just as she’s lost her language. She can’t stand being poked and prodded and she seems to see everything as being poked and prodded. She has a hissy fit whenever she gets a bath — or what passes for a bath when you’re bedridden. I gave my signed permission today for the nursing staff to stop sticking her fingers twice a day for blood sugar samples to control her diabetes. Dr. Blackstone told me years ago diabetes wasn’t what was going to kill Granny. I told the head of nursing today, there are worse ways to die than diabetic coma.

Granny saves a special rage for anyone who tries to clean her hands and especially her fingernails. She cannot abide having her hands or nails messed with, which wouldn’t be so bad, but Granny’s mind wanders now and she will not stop digging in her disposable briefs. Maybe she itches, maybe it’s something else, but whatever the cause, she can’t tell us. I’m not going to be graphic, but you can draw your conclusions as to the state of her nails. Mama cried every time she saw Granny’s nails, but the staff can only do so much because Granny is “combative” which is nicely saying she gets pissed off when you touch her too much.

However, as family, I am not bound by the facility’s rules against restraints, and her nails and hands were so hideous today that I held my precious grandmother while two nurses cleaned and trimmed her nails. I linked my fingers in hers like we used to do crossing the street. She fought but her strength was no match for mine, just as mine was no match for hers long ago when I had to have childhood shots. As I cupped her arthritic fingers gently as I could so as to not hurt her, the tears ran down my face just as they ran down hers long ago. Then I knew with perfect clarity what a parent means when he says, “This is hurting me more than it hurts you.” At one point, she managed to get my hand near her mouth so she bit me. It seemed to make her feel better, so I just left my arm where she could gnaw on it at will — a small bruise or two (she has no teeth) are a small price to pay for her hands to be clean. After we finished, a nurse brought her a strawberry nutrition shake and the nurses were forgiven . . . her look told me I was not, even though next Tuesday she won’t remember a thing. I sat with her a while longer, then kissed her cheek, placed today’s sliver on her pillow, and turned to come home.

The old proverb, “Once a man; twice a child” is painful to see in someone you love.Freshly pressed

Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

Of Blowdried Bumblebees

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Bumblebee_on_a_flowerBumblebees are my favorite insect and one of my favorite animals. I’ve always loved watching them dip and swerve around flowers, especially azaleas in the spring. Now I don’t know whether or not I believe the old saw about bumblebees supposedly not being aerodynamically capable of flying. You know the one? Supposedly some aerospace engineers did whatever it is they do and determined the bumble’s weight to wing ratio or some such meant that it wasn’t supposed to be able to fly, but since bumblebees don’t read aerospace engineering journals, they’ve never found this fact out so they fly on anyway. Maybe, maybe not. I know Ms. Mary Kay Ash believed it and that’s why a diamond encrusted bumblebee shaped pin is the most coveted award in the direct cosmetic sales empire she founded.

Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant to me. I love bumblebees because they are like me — fat, uncoordinated, and addicted to sweets.

Knowing this about me, it will come as no surprise when I saw a bumblebee barely making ripples as he drifted inexorably towards oblivion within my pool skimmer, I didn’t hesitate to reach in bare handed and scoop him out onto the deck. People will tell you bumblebees can’t sting. People would be lying. Bumbles can sting just fine when they want to, but they have a very high tolerance of idiots swatting at them so they don’t sting much. However, if you step on one in a patch of clover while cutting your grandparent’s grass in bare feet, they most certainly WILL sting and it hurts like hell.

An actual Mary Kay award bee from her museum.

An actual Mary Kay award bee from her museum.

Anyway, this particular bumble was in no danger of stinging me or anyone else. I was afraid I’d gotten to him too late. Of all the things about pools I hate, the indiscriminate way they slaughter innocent insects and other animals just looking for  a drink of water is highest on the list. Now, one of my favorite creatures lay probably dying as a result of a collision with one of my most hated possessions. Since it was getting dark quickly and the temperature was already falling, I realized Mr. Bumble wouldn’t make it through the night. Even if he somehow managed to keep the water out of his airways, the chill of the early spring night couple with his sodden state would surely bring the insectoid version of the Grim Reaper to claim him.

So, I did what anyone who loves bumblebees would do — scooped him up and carried him into the house directly to the bathroom. Once there, I carefully tapped him with tissue paper to try blotting off as much water as I could. I still wasn’t having much success though. The problem lay in bumblebee anatomy. If you’ve ever looked closely at most bees, you’ll see they are very hairy. This hirsuteness serves a vital purpose to the bees and the flowers they pollinate by acting as carriers for the pollen to stick to. I’ve seen bumbles emerge from some flowers looking like a big yellow cotton ball so laden with pollen were they. Unfortunately for my erstwhile patient, the same hairs were also matted and massed and holding too much water for the paper towels and tissue to soak up. I was afraid he was fading. He was moving very little, mostly just twitching a leg or an antennae every now and again. The prognosis, even to my inexpert eye, was bleak.

Then, I saw the blow dryer. My brain made the leap of logic nearly instantly. What are blow dryers FOR?! Drying hair of course! And what was wrong with my bumblebee? His HAIR was soaked! So, with no further ado, I cut the blow dryer on high heat and low wind and brought it near my patient. Of course, bumblebees possess significantly less mass than a human head, so he tumbled over instantly. I adjusted the beam of warm air but it was still too strong. Finally, I hit upon covering him with my hand and aiming the dryer on high heat / high wind right at the top of my fingers. That seemed to do the trick. The hurricane force (to a bee anyway) of the dryer stream blunted against my hand, but the life saving heat swirled around my fingers and began to have the desire effect.

DUDE! That was some party.

DUDE! That was some party.

When I felt him begin to stir, I moved my hand and started holding the dryer at a single spot on the towel, thus heating it significantly. He would crawl — slowly at first but with increasing vigor — over to the hot spot. Then I would move the beam away and heat another spot. We played this game for about half and hour, at the end of which he was quite dry it seemed. His hairs were still rather messy, but even my finest, smallest comb could not hope to bring any order to such a miniscule mountain of chaos.

With him now dry, I again picked him up and took him to the front porch where the last bits of daylight were shining. He sat on the railing unmoving and I thought he still might not make it. Then I hit on the idea of putting him on the azaleas that were in gorgeous full bloom right in front of the house. I eased him onto a large pink blossom and he immediately burrowed head first into the stand of stamens.

That’s where I found him — upside down and motionless — the next morning.  A strange sadness washed over me. I felt a sense of irreplaceable loss as this innocent little bee dying brought Mama’s recent death flowing back to me. I was just about ready to collapse into tears and I reached out to stroke the lifeless little legs sticking up forlornly into the air. Just as I touched one though, it quivered a bit. Heartened, I went and got a piece of tissue and pressed it against all six legs. To my everlasting joy, all six latched on to the bit of paper and I was able to lift the “resurrected” bumble from the blossom. I’m not sure what happened to him. Perhaps he was just tired from the ordeal before or maybe he drank too much azalea nectar during the night.

Whatever the case though, I placed him, tissue and all, gently between two blossoms and left him — now upright — alone to go do some cleaning. When I returned a couple of hours later, he was gone but the tissue remained and a fifteen minute search of the surrounding plants revealed no bumblebee corpses so I’m thinking the little guy made it — at least I hope he did. For all I know, he became a meal for one of the mockingbirds living in the boxwood on either side of the porch. I will choose, however, to believe he is alive and well and living out his short life enjoying the flowers and making sweet bee love to some hot little bumble sheila.

At least, I hope so. I’ve had enough of death for a while.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Goodbye, Mama. I love you.

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Mama and me

Going to miss her so very much.

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

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

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

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

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

Reunited Monday, 3-25-13.

Reunited Monday, 3-25-13.

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

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

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

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

I love y’all. Sincerely, Me.

 

Kid! Just.Stay.Down.

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They look nothing like the characters in this memory.

For some reason today, I remembered a fight I witnessed when I was a freshman in high school. It was over some real or imagined affront to one of the guys’ honor and — most likely — a girl had something to do with it somewhere because they pretty much always did. I know I heard girls complain time after time about their “hotheaded” boyfriends always wanting to fight over them. They talked like it was the most embarrassing thing in the world, but the funny thing is, the Lady Fair was always present in the rustic berfois whenever her Shining Knight was tilting in the lists. Even funnier is how often the loser in the fight would lose his girl as well. Milady doth protest too much over the bloodletting, but she isn’t likely to stay with someone incapable of defending her honor either. It’s natural selection at its finest.

But I digress.

I ended up at this fight because my ride home was going to the melee. Apparently,  the “challenge a la guerre” took place between classes or at lunch or some such. In any event, fighting on school property — while it did happen — would end in a lengthy suspension for a first offense and a recommendation for expulsion thereafter so unless someone blatantly spit in your face or proclaimed loudly and profanely that your mother was something less than pure as the driven snow and a saint among women, fights happened at “The Rocks” at 3:30 after school.

The Rocks was a sandy beach beside the Little River less than a mile from the school down Raider Road. It took its name from the shoals created by — duh — rocks and the flattened, worn boulders dotting the beach. It provided good footing, was spacious enough to accommodate a pair of pugilists or a group of warriors, and had ample viewpoints to watch the fight and watch for the local constabulary.

Close, but a few more big rocks and a little smaller stream.

These affairs were always “straight up” as well. I think my generation was the last one to settle fights solely with the weapons God gave us. I knew several boys carried knives — I myself was seldom without my stainless steel butterfly blade, even at school — and more than one — of which number I would be included during my train wreck of a senior year — carried guns in the glove box of their cars. Despite such an weaponry, no one I knew from any group in the school would have pulled a knife in a simple dispute like this. His own friends would turn on him in a second for such an egregious breach of longstanding tradition. Against a rival school or in a clearly delineated gang fight, you took your chances of getting butchered or shot, but not while “settling scores” at The Rocks after school.

In one corner was a junior I didn’t particularly care for. His face was too handsome by half and when he took his shirt over his head he revealed sculpted muscles my pasty white doughboy belly would never see. This guy could throw down though. Fighting came as naturally to him as his stylishly tousled blonde hair. He wasn’t the biggest guy in the school by a long margin, but he was big enough. I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted to have a go at him. I don’t consider myself a coward and I have enough scars to prove it, but I also adhere strictly to the Kenny Rogers dictum that one must, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; know when to walk away and know when to run.” After all, a wise man said discretion is the better part of valor.

The other fighter was a sophomore. He had moved in to the area in his freshman year. I didn’t know his name, but I’d seen him in the halls. He was an inch or two shorter than Adonis and seemed reasonably fit. Standing with a couple of his clique, he didn’t seem too anxious to participate in this barbarism, and I figured none of this was his idea. Unfortunately, school’s like prison — you back down when someone calls you out, you set yourself up for endless bullying and torture.

At least they avoided this crap.

This wasn’t Madison Square Garden and no one standing around the circle — except me — could have told you who the Marquis de Queensbury was. To their credit, they dispensed with the usual circling shoulder to shoulder and trash talking. The kid just walked up to Adonis and tossed out a right hook that grazed the sculpted perfect chin. That was the first and last blow the kid landed. Adonis gave with the punch and came back with a straight left hand to the kid’s nose that started blood flowing and sent the kids sprawling flat onto his back.

At that point, the fight could have been over. Honor was satisfied, at least to all of us. Apparently, the kid had other ideas. He slowly stood up and waded back in, launching a haymaker right that whiffed miserably. Adonis popped him with a right – left combination and the kid was down again with the beginnings of a beautiful shiner on his left eye. Again, this is over, right? No. The kid staggers to his feet again and goes right back at Adonis and receives a matching contusion over his right eye for his trouble. This time, Adonis strode over and when the kid got to his knees, Adonis anchored him flat again with a huge right and turned to walk away. The kid somehow got up again and lunged at Adonis, grabbing the older boy around the waist. Adonis spun out easily and — once again — put the kid face down with a hard punch.

Looked a lot like this . . . a WHOLE lot like this.

Now this was getting awkward. This kid wasn’t going to stay down even though he had absolutely no chance of winning or even hitting his antagonist. Any of the rest of us would have taken our ass-whipping and called it a day, thank you very much, but this guy just kept coming. Three more times he got up and three more times Adonis leveled him. It was just like the boxing scene from Cool Hand Luke except these guys weren’t wearing any gloves. I know Adonis wasn’t holding anything back, but this kid just kept getting up. He looked like, well, he looked like someone who ran into a buzz saw, but he would not quit. I saw him get plastered twice more before Scott tapped me on the shoulder and shrugged his head towards the car. A few other people left around the same time.

I heard the next day at school that Adonis finally knocked him down then knelt beside him and put his hand on the kid’s chest to keep him from rising. When the kid struggled to knock the hand away, a buddy of mine who stayed said Adonis held firm and said to the kid, “You win. Just stay there and you can tell anyone you want to that you won this fight. Please stay down because I don’t want to hit you anymore.” He said when the kid heard that, he just relaxed and passed out. By the end of the year, he was a member of Adonis’ crew.

I guess I was thinking about that fight because of all the crap that’s been hitting me lately. Sickness, bills, general troubles. We all have to go through dark places, but honestly, it feels like it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the light. Of course, the one huge difference between my current state and the kid’s that day long ago at The Rocks is life doesn’t tell you to stay down or you’ve won. Get up as many times as you want to; Life’s big right hand is going to put you flat on your back one more time until you break or die. It’s a rule. Nobody gets out of here alive; you just get to choose how disfigured you want to be.

Sorry about the bummer ending, y’all.
Just remember ol’ G.S. Feet loves each and every one of you. Stay safe and keep those feet clean.

Thoughts on Veterans’ Day 2011

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I would like to thank all the brave men and women throughout our country’s history who have served under arms waging war and keeping peace. It is because of the sacrifice in time, emotion, energy, and — all too often — blood, that the United States of America remains the envy of the rest of the world.

I wholeheartedly support our troops — past, present, and future. Always have, always will.

Having said that, I need to make clear that I am adamantly against the two current “wars” our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have been fighting for the last ten years. Furthermore, even though I was not yet born, I stand retroactively and historically against every war and conflict this country has been involved in since 1945.

Again, to be crystal clear, I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. My immediate family has sent many brave men to fight our country’s wars including my grandfather, father, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. If I pull back to look at my extended family, the number of veterans quickly becomes too great to list.  As a teacher, I watched more than fifty of my former students go off to fight. To my everlasting sorrow, two of them returned home in flag draped caskets after making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

I have never admitted this to anyone before tonight, but I was prepared to leave college in 1991 to enlist in the US Army in order to fight in the First Gulf War (the semi- justifiable one) when it looked like we were up against a real army and it might be a somewhat long war. I went to Fountain Inn one early fall afternoon and spoke to Papa Wham alone. Papa, with his eyes tearing up, asked me to please not enlist. He said, “Frankie being in Vietnam almost killed Mama (he always called Granny Wham, Mama) and me. I don’t believe either one of us could stand to see you go to war.” I didn’t enlist, but even though I am grateful to have honored Papa’s wishes, I still feel like a little part of me is missing and I’ll never be able to hold my head quite as high as Papa Wham and Daddy with no test of combat under my belt.

Papa had passed away by the time of the 9-11-2001 attacks when I would again contemplate enlisting, but by then, I was 30 and the recruiters all said I was too old so once again, I did not get to fight. My deepest and greatest regret is having never served my country in uniform.

In any event, though I was willing to go fight myself, I do not support the way our military is being used and has been used for the last forty-five years.  I believe, and I feel justified in my belief, that our government, for whatever real or stated reasons has decided to make the United States the big brother / policeman to the entire world. We are spending our sons and daughters’ precious blood on soil where we have no business being fighting for causes that are not our own.

Please look through the following list of the MAJOR wars and conflicts America has participated in and see what we gained.

  • American Revolution — gained our independence and became a country.
  • War of 1812 — gained nothing for the US.  This war was so unpopular at the time the New England states almost seceded from the United States.
  • Mexican War — Our first aggressive war. We got most of the southwest, which we’d been claiming anyway for years. Oh, and we trained a whole generation of officers for the next war.
  • The War of Northern Aggression — The Confederate States were forced to remain in the Union at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives both Blue and Grey.
  • The Spanish-American War — Our first war started and fought under completely false pretenses. We gained an overseas empire and a bad reputation.
  • World War I — We fought for one year and acted like we won the war single-handedly.  WWI put us on the world stage as a major player, but we could have just as easily sat it out and still emerged as a dominant power in the world. Wilson just HAD to get us in the fight though.
  • World War II — The continuation of the First World War after a 20 year intermission. We could have sat this one out as well so long as we kept Great Britain and the Soviet Union supplied from The Arsenal of Democracy, but the Japs had to sneak attack us (well, sneak attack for Pearl Harbor. FDR knew all about the coming attack) We gained nothing except superpower status. This is also when we started the annoying trend of blowing the hell out of an enemy and then going in and rebuilding them even stronger.
  • The Korean Conflict — Never a declared war. Still technically going on today since no peace treaty has ever been signed. We gained NOTHING from the Korean War except thousands of casualties and the basis for a mediocre but long running television show.
  • Vietnam Conflict — Never a declared war. We lost nearly 60,000 brave young men for NOTHING. Our government committed acts tantamount to TREASON against our troops then a bunch of dreadlocked hippies had the gall to spit on our boys as they came home. This war destroyed any innocence our country might have retained and gained us NOTHING.
  • Gulf War I — Bush I managed to get us cheap oil for a little while longer.
  • Gulf War II —  Bush II managed to get rid of Saddam Hussein in one of the most unjustified actions of aggression against another sovereign nation (albeit it a sorry, lowdown, and wicked sovereign nation) since we exterminated the Indians and paved the way for one of the only non-theocratic Islamic states in the Middle East to become a theocratic Islamic state. Oh, and also did away with what was left of Daddy Bush’s cheap oil.
  • War In Afghanistan — Ten years to kill one man and when we leave, and we WILL leave, the Taliban will come right back in and reinstall Islamic law, destroy all the schools we built with our boys’ blood, and start cutting women’s noses off again if they get “uppity”.

So, I support our troops whole-heartedly and will happily fight anyone anytime anywhere who think I do not. They are doing their jobs despite the government’s ability to tie their hands at every opportunity. They are fighting, not for “our freedom” because our freedom is not endangered by al-queda’s terrorists. Al-queda can kill Americans, but they cannot kill America and if we stayed out of their miserable God-forsaken countries, they wouldn’t be able to kill as many Americans. 9-11 was a lesson, but unfortunately, it has become the entire curriculum.

At the close of this Veterans Day, Thank You once again to all our Veterans, past and present, living and dead; and to our government let me say loudly and clearly,

BRING OUR BOYS AND GIRLS HOME NOW.

What I Want for Christmas

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Today is Christmas and everyone who survived the rush and crush of people are gathered around trees or tables with friends and family swapping stories, opening presents, eating, drinking, and generally making merry. It’s been a common custom for people to exchange lists of gifts they would like to get from their significant others while children practice their penmanship on those all important letters to Santa. I thought that, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to make out a list of what I want for Christmas this year. Just for fun and variety.

I want to eat Christmas dinner at Papa and Granny Wham’s. I want Papa Wham to say the blessing — his blessing — the same one I can still recite in my head: “Father, pardon us of all our sins; we thank you for these and all other blessing, in Jesus’ name, Amen.” I want to eat Granny Wham’s bone dry turkey and her dressing that she never put onions in because she knew I hated onions. I want Granny Hughes’ English pea dumplings as a side dish. I want one of Aunt Nell’s cakes.

I want us all sitting around a huge table. I want Papa Wham at one end and Papa John at the other. I want Granny Wham to sit down and not walk around with the tea pitcher asking to fill everyone’s glass for the twentieth time. I want Budge next to me and Mama and Rob, Mama Lowe and Jessie, Travis and Dani, and Chloe stretching down from Budge’s side. I want Chloe to have a bottle of cereal held in two good hands. I want Daddy and Teresa, Nick, Keri, and Mason on my other side stretching up the table. I want Daddy to be holding Mason and genuinely happy, smiling and at ease instead of on a ragged emotional edge because of Vietnam rooted PTSD.

I’d say I want Mama and Daddy still together, but even my wildest fantasies have their limits. Also, wishing carelessly can reduce happiness as much as expand it. For instance, had Mama and Daddy not divorced, MAYBE some things in my life would have been better. Maybe not. However, no divorce would then mean no Rob. No Rob; no Baby Huey; no Baby Huey; no Dani and without them both I wouldn’t have my beautiful baby niece, Chloe. It would be the same story on my other side as well. No Teresa would mean no Nicholas; no Nick would mean no Sissy; no Nick and no Sissy would mean no precious baby Mason.

Unfortunately, Mason and Chloe don’t completely erase the pain, anger, and frustration of a busted up family and all the excess arrangements and holiday misery such a lifestyle brings with it — memory is a killing thing in that regard, but they DO give the pain, anger, and frustration new and happier context. They’ve given meaning to the madness. Having those two bright eyed centers of the universe giggling and laughing at the table make the tears worthwhile.

Then I want Aunt Judy and the family she’d have sitting next to Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry and Blake and Zack and Ashley. I want them all sitting right across from me. I want Granny Wham sitting next to Papa Wham and Aunt Mary and Uncle Carroll sitting — happily — side-by-side next to Granny.  I want Aunt Polly, Aunt Nell, and Aunt Mot — The Three Sisters — sitting together. I want Shane and Ashleigh sitting together nearby. I want little curly-locked Gabriel sitting on his all-grown-up Uncle Scott’s lap.

I want Dad and Sandy nearby — and quiet for a change. I want Missy and Charles and Jackson and Harry somewhere close by. I want Richard, bright-eyed, unhaunted, happy and sober, sitting next to Ki-Ki with Ryken on his lap. I want my beloved Kayla with her mom and stepdad, PJ and O.J,. there with the boys and Celeste, calmly smiling, eating and talking instead of screaming and fighting. This is another case of wishing for wholeness would mean wishing away much happiness. In some convoluted “perfect world” Rich and PJ wouldn’t have divorced and Kayla would have grown up in a stable family, made excellent grades, and gone to a fantastic college on a soccer scholarship. However, if that were true, Budge and I wouldn’t have Ki-Ki and Ryken in our lives, so — as painful as the road my be — I’ll take the demonic with the divine and keep on keeping on.

I want Laura and Rachel and Jen and the rest of Budge and my Florida family sitting with us around the table. I want to sit next to Grandma Sims and ask her if Dad was always as stubborn and hard-headed as he is now!

I want Papa John to read the Christmas story out of Luke from Papa Hurley’s huge family Bible. I want Uncle Claude to pray for us all after the meal. I want Aunt Mildred sitting with him, calm and well. I want Aunt Betty and Uncle Raymond and Rhonda next to Granny Hughes. I want Mama singing Christmas carols (instead of hacking and coughing) with Aunt Lib and Big Granny while Papa John plays his guitar and Aunt Margie plays the piano. I want Jenny there with Bubba and Diane. I want Bluford and Chad, Connie and Gen all sitting together. I want Aunt Margaret passing around her biscuits with one hand while holding Uncle Leroy’s hand with the other.

I want Brooke and Smallwood, Daniel and the Sledzianowski Brothers, Angela and Christian, and of course, my buddy Tina all sitting near me. I want Coach Candler and Mrs. McCuen and all the rest of my Woodmont family sitting around the table and tree with us. I want Maureen and her 3 boys and Dr. O and his three girls with Lance and my District 56 family with them too. I want my “sister” Laura sitting with Cameron and Jacob, smiling and not worried about paying bills or being alone anymore. I want Erica sitting hand in hand with David, happy and satisfied.

I want us all together and happy one more time.

That’s what I want for Christmas.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Hug and kiss the ones you love today. Next Christmas might be too late.

They Shall Run and Not be Weary

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Requiescat In Pace, Mi Amo.

As years go, 1995 sucked rocks big time.

My great-grandfather died New Year’s Day. Two of my favorite cousins were killed in a huge car wreck in March. One of my wrestlers was killed in July and while I was on the way home from his visitation, Mama called and told me to go to the hospital where Granny Wham was recovering from a stroke. I broke every speed limit possible getting to Hillcrest thinking the whole time that Granny had died. She hadn’t . . . Papa Wham had. That was enough to send my world reeling, but the year wasn’t over yet.

On this day 15 years ago, my buddy lost her long brutal fight with cancer. She was just shy of turning 20. She was one of the very best friends I ever had and she’s the only woman, besides Mama, that Budge doesn’t mind me having a picture of on my desk. Budge knows what my buddy meant to me. Not many others do because I’ve never told that many people about her.

I met her when I was doing my student teaching in 1993. She was a senior which meant at that time, she was just over three years younger than me. I won’t say we had love at first sight, but we definitely had chemistry at first sight. The crutches made me curious.

She got around on crutches better than I could get around on two legs. Her left leg was gone. Once I got to know her, the story came out. She’d been a first rate cheerleader and volleyball player up until her freshman year of high school.  One day after practice, she had a cramp in her left leg behind her knee. When she sat down on the bleachers to rub it out, she found a knot. The knot didn’t go away in several days. She went to the doctor, the doctor did some tests, and the next thing you know, Jed’s a millionaire and she’s being diagnosed with acute lymphoma.

They took her leg with a saw; her health and hair followed with chemotherapy. None of it ever broke her spirit though. She just threw up and rocked on. That’s how she rolled, as the saying goes today. When I met her, she’d finally gotten a full head of hair back, even though it was short, and she was in full remission.

We started calling and hanging out together. She had a Corvette she drove with hand controls and in those days when I had more courage than sense, she was one of the few drivers who could put me in the floor with terror. She was utterly and finally fearless. She said cancer couldn’t kill her so she wasn’t going to worry about anything else.

I graduated in May; she in June. We met up at the beach and hung out some. She loved the beach. I was over 21 so I kept her hotel room supplied with party lubrication. Yeah, it was illegal. Sue me. We had a great week before I went back to find a teaching job and she went back to get ready for college.

She never made it to college though. She called me two weeks later. I went to see her at the hospital. The cancer was back. In her lungs this time. They took out the offending lung lobe, gave her more chemo and again pronounced her in remission after six months. I called her daily and went to see her every chance I could. One day while we were laughing and cutting up driving around the hills around her home blasting out Skynyrd, Hatchet, and Duane and Gregg,  I even asked her if she’d like to get hitched to a redneck like me. After all, it was obvious we were a perfect match.

I’ll never forget her reply. She reached up and cut the radio off, suddenly all business. She locked eyes with me and said, “I’d love to, but I’m going to die before long and you won’t be able to bear it if we were married. It’s going to be hard enough on you as it is.” I nodded. She turned up “Tuesday’s Gone” and we took off again.

Turns out, she was a prophetess. Less than three months later, I went back to the hospital to see her. It was in the right lung this time, but this time things were different. She wasn’t a minor anymore and she made her own decisions. To the abject horror of her mama, daddy, friends, and me, she announced she had no intention of leaving the world one piece at a time. She was done fighting. She was tired.

I kissed her on the cheek before I left her room that night. It was the last time I saw her alive. In the end, the big C sucked her dry. She weighed less than 50 pounds at the end. Her hospice nurse called me when it was over. My number had a heart around it in her contact book. I heard it was a closed casket funeral. She wanted everyone to remember her as she’d lived, not as she’d died. I went to see her mama and daddy but I didn’t make the funeral. No way I could. Hard to go to a funeral fifty miles away when you can’t get your eyes dry long enough to drive.

I only knew my buddy a little while in the grand scheme of things — barely two full years — but she taught me a hell of a lot in that short time about loving life and what it was to show real courage. On her tombstone is the picture of a soaring eagle and her favorite Bible verse:

“They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”

I lost a lot of love in 1995 and love, especially the kind of love I lost, can’t be replaced.

That’s why I love all y’all so much.

Keep those feet clean and remember to live like you were dying!

Of Tragedy and Old Friends

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I stopped by Kentucky Grilled Chicken (?!?!?) today for a three honey BBQ snacker snack at lunchtime. I was done with the tater wedges and halfway through my second snacker when an old friend showed up in the KFC (KGC . . . KGB . . . ???). Now when I say “old friend”, this chicka is quite possibly my second oldest friend in the world. She and I literally have known each other from right near the cradle. We went through twelve years of grade school and K5 together. I distinctly remember talking her out of playing with the toy kitchen set in Miss Coggins’ room so she would come play in the sandbox with me. Birthday parties, McDonald’s parties, swimming dates. We go way back.

For the purpose of this story, her name will be Nadia. First, I don’t want her real name plastered all over the Internet because she’s a private person and second, I didn’t go to school with anyone named Nadia at any time that I can remember, so people won’t be running to the old yearbooks (as if they cared) to see who I’m talking about.

Nadia was one of my first kindergarten crushes. I thought she was beautiful with china blue eyes and long snowy blond hair, but even more, she was cute and funny. She was a lot like me. Her parents were the first couple in my dinky little home town to get divorced after mine broke the ice. It wasn’t much of a loss for the family since her dad was, as Papa used to put it, “not worth the powder it would take to blow his brains out.” Still, not much ever seemed to get her down. She was the middle child of three, then the second oldest of four when her mother got a bit of a surprise when Nadia and I were beginning sixth grade. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only surprise Nadia’s family would get that year.

Nadia was the most graceful gymnast I knew in my short life. She was athletic all around — great runner, champion swimmer, etc. — but her true gift lay on the floor exercise platform. I still recall our sixth grade talent show when she did her floor routine and absolutely floored everyone else. Her dream was the Olympics. She had her sights set on Los Angeles and 1984 and none of us, young or old, doubted her ability or commitment. We joked in math class about how much tickets to LA would cost. Our closest airport wasn’t even equipped for that kind of trip then. Nadia had big dreams and we all dreamed with her. Somewhere boxed up I’ve got a wallet sized picture of her in her leotard with her rhythm hoop. She’s smiling that spotlight smile and looks for all the world like she was posing on the podium getting the gold medal.

If iPods had been around in 1982, I don’t doubt for a minute she’d have made LA. Nadia, her mother, her mother’s best friend, and Nadia’s three sisters, including the baby, were on their way home in a car driven by Nadia’s oldest sister, who had just gotten her permit. The cassette they were listening to reached the end and automatically ejected. It came out of the player and fell to the floor beneath the sister’s feet. When her sister glanced down to mark where it fell, the car was in the beginning of a curve and drifted into the path of a fully loaded gravel truck  from the local quarry.

The Highway Patrol statement said there were no skid marks visible from either vehicle. Neither driver had touched a brake pedal. The truck was stopped by climbing atop the car and sliding several hundred feet until both vehicles went into the ditch. The truck driver was physically unscathed and everyone, including Nadia, have always maintained there was nothing humanly possible he could have done to avoid the collision. In any event, I heard the accident drove him to the bottle. Whether that is true or not, I can’t say. You’ll hear anything in a small town.

What is a fact is Nadia’s Olympic dream ended in a tangle of sheet metal and diesel fuel. Her spine was severed right below her belly button. She would never walk again. Her mother, the friend, oldest sister, and the baby, who wasn’t in a car seat because she didn’t have to be in those days, all died at the scene. Nadia’s next sister, seated at impact between the friend and Nadia, walked away with a cut over her left eye that required five stitches.

I don’t know many well adjusted grown men and women who could have withstood a tragedy of that magnitude with all mental flags flying, but Nadia seemed to. I don’t pretend to know what nightmares have ridden roughshod through her dreams these last thirty years, but I know she took to her wheelchair like the proverbial duck to water. After some therapy, she was riding rings around her grandmother and grandfather’s home. She even came back to school and finished the year.

In those pre-Americans with Disabilities Act days, our beloved principal and several of the more “handy” fathers came to the school several days over the winter break and built ramps to every place they could imagine Nadia wanting to go. She was given a key to the faculty bathroom because it was the only restroom in the school large enough to accommodate her and her wheelchair. One of her trusted friends would always accompany her in case she fell making the transition from chair to commode and back. That’s how we did it back then. We took care of each other.

Nadia was the first handicapped person I knew up close and personal. She could have been the poster child for how to deal with the biggest poop sandwich I’ve ever seen handed to one person in one lifetime. She was, and still is, a survivor. She and I graduated the same night and I lost track of her for some time. Then I started running into her at local stores and such. She was still pretty as ever. In time’s due course, she married a very kind and decent man. He was with her today. They have four children and the oldest was graduating tonight, just as his mother and I did these twenty years gone.

So I told y’all Nadia’s story to tell you, and myself, this little tidbit — it could ALWAYS be worse. What’s more, when it GETS worse, it’s up to you how to handle it. If anyone in this world has ever had a right to end up hooked on drugs or completely depressed or suicidal, Nadia was that person. That wasn’t how she rolled, pun intended, though. One dream and most of her family had died, but the woman I saw today still had a head held high and her china blue eyes still sparkled. The snow blond hair had some grey streaks, but mine does as well and my life has been a cakewalk compared to Nadia’s. So don’t take anything for granted folks. Life moves at the speed of love and it moves by very fast. Nadia is moving right along with it. She’s been an inspiration to me for going on thirty years now. I hope her story inspires some of y’all as well.

So, love y’all bunches and now that summer’s here, when y’all come in from chasing fireflies, don’t forget to wash your feet! 🙂