Tag Archives: friendship

Missionary Position

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boys fightingOnce upon a time, I was a new Christian determined to win the world for Jesus. I thought everyone should go to Heaven and I was the one to show them the way. I had ALL the answers to anything anyone could ever ask me about faith. Then, eight years ago, Papa John died and I didn’t have answers for MY questions, and when I finally had those pieces of life somewhat reorganized, Mama died and dumped my apple cart again. I went to a seriously dark place emotionally and mentally and almost gave up on everything.

A year later, I’m still recovering, but I’m a different person. I still believe Jesus is our savior, sacrifice, lord and the ONLY means of salvation and eternal life. (Wonder how many followers THAT lost me?) I still want to go to Heaven . . . especially if it means I’ll see Mama again. I’m still “on the firing line” as the old gospel song says, but . . . BUT, I understand a few things differently now. For instance, everyone doesn’t WANT to go to Heaven. Lots of people could care less about Heaven or Jesus too for that matter. I know there’s a difference between civil rights and religious teachings. I’m different and I’m scarred now, and because of that, I have a better missionary position than before.

I’ve developed my position around three critical ideas: a perceived interest, a perceived need, and/or an established relationship. First, I have a willingness to discuss the story of my faith in Christ and what He’s done for me with anyone who shows even the remotest interest. I believe all Christians should be willing and able to do the same because we are admonished to “always be ready to give a defense or reason for the hope we have in us.” I also think it’s important to pay attention to the person I’m talking to. If I see the reptilian haze begin to fuzz over their eyes or they seem to bristle at the name of Jesus, then it’s time to talk about the weather or football or — God forbid — politics.

Second, I’m willing to start a conversation about Christ and faith with anyone (even a stranger) who seems to be in a state of physical or emotional turmoil or pain. Some people might see that approach as intrusive or offensive, but I see such a conversation in the same light as a compassionate nurse or doctor checking on someone he saw take a tumble or having a little trouble breathing. I like to help people; I want everyone to go to Heaven, and I have the skill set for such a conversation. If they seem open, I go as far as inviting them to church one Saturday night or Sunday morning; if I sense pushback, fine – it’s a perfectly legitimate choice on their part and we’ll just leave it at that. It never hurts to care about people, though.Finally, I’ll initiate faith discussions – often intense ones – with non-believers I have an established relationship with. The key is ESTABLISHED. I’m not going to ask a person if he’s a Christian on our first meeting unless he brings it up. Football is much safer for a conversation starter. I’m talking about people I’ve known and interacted with over a lengthy period of time. It could be a friend, but I’ve also had these faith discussions with my regular waitress at restaurants I frequent. These are people who know a decent amount about me. Hopefully, they can tell I’m a Christian before I even bring it up; if they can’t, I’ve got a bigger problem because my life isn’t a reflection of Whom I serve.

Discussions like these, however, are YEARS forming and they are not without hazards – I’ve lost touch with a couple of people I considered good friends over tension between our beliefs, but such is the risk anyone who wants to point people towards God’s Kingdom must be willing to take. It doesn’t feel great and it certainly doesn’t make me some sort of martyr to lose a friend over my faith, but if you put yourself out there, it’s likely to happen at some point. In the end, all I can do is show the way; I can’t walk the path for them. My grandmother-in-law had a saying I think of often: “We must let people go to Hell in their own way.”

Now just as I have three key ideas I live by for sharing my faith, I also have three things I avoid. For one, I will NOT “debate” religion in a comments section of a website or in posts on Facebook. Text is a poor way to debate ideas because so much communication and meaning relies on non-verbal cues. It is extremely difficult to gauge someone’s state of mind or read his intent on a message board. I see online religious “discussions” as THE fastest way to obtain proof of Godwin’s Law, Poe’s Law, and – most profoundly – John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Theory, often all in a single comment or post. Remember, don’t feed the trolls.

The second thing I will not do is participate in any sort of mass “direct evangelism.” For those who didn’t grow up in the South, direct evangelism is going door to door in neighborhoods, trailer parks, and shopping malls to ask random people to sit down and discuss their salvation. This kind of missionary position is not the exclusive domain of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, but they’ve made it famous; however, I know of several “regular” churches where one night per week is “visitation night” or “outreach night.” I know this human faith wave has produced fruit, but I also know it’s created more bad press for Christians than good. No one wants to deal with telemarketers, even if the product is salvation, and knocking on the wrong doors these days is a quick way to meet Jesus in person via a 9 mm slug to the head.

My final taboo is “Christian merchandising.” My cars do not sport chrome fish or any other Christian device. I do not own a Christian t-shirt. I don’t carry a reference or study bible with me wherever I go. None of this is due to my shame at being a Christian; it’s the polar opposite. Before chrome fish, we didn’t have chrome fish with feet, chrome fish eating chrome fish with feet or vice versa, or chrome flying spaghetti monsters. Also, I know how I drive and ESPECIALLY how my Budge drives. I don’t want to embarrass Christ with our road rage. I can’t think of a worse witness for Jesus than cutting someone off with a huge chrome fish on your bumper THEN giving them the finger when they blow their horns at you.

So, that’s my take on sharing my faith. I want everyone to go to Heaven, but I’m not naïve enough to believe everyone will make it in. Hell, some days (LOTS of days) I have serious doubts about myself! Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

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TLDR

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clenched-fistThis beach trip recollection wasn’t supposed to take this long to finish, but it is what it is. I’m cutting to the chase to tell the story I wanted to tell all along and you’ll see why my senior beach trip caused a sea change in my life that rolls like mighty waters to this day.

A clumsy stumbling woke me up on Thursday morning. I had a hangover stabbing pain in my neck resulting from an earring I barely remembered getting. At least it wasn’t a missing tooth or tribal facial tattoo. Then the day went to hell and pushed me a little farther down a road I had no idea I was on.

I had crashed on the couch; apparently it was as far as I could make it under a rare heavy load of Jack Daniels. Two other members of our entourage had stayed at their girlfriends’ much nicer digs. That meant the last guy sharing our room had the place to himself. Let me call him Adonis for the sake of anonymity. Just know he’s in this picture. He was pretty much perfect in every way that matters to a high school teen. I am firmly in the hetero camp and have always and forever batted from one side of the plate, but he was a gorgeous guy — tall, flowing hair, built like Michelangelo’s David but twice as cold and half as smart. He also came from money, drove an AMAZING car, and was captain of the football team and the wrestling team our senior year. His sculpted jaw line and dazzling physique cast my own self-esteem into such eclipse I told my first great love while we were still dating if she ever left me for Adonis, I would understand and wish her well to which she replied, “That’s great you feel that way ’cause if he ever asks me, I’m gone.”

Yeah, him. Pretty close likeness.

Yeah, him. Pretty close likeness.

Adonis could have whomever he wanted but he always wanted someone other than who he was currently with. Worse, he was like a grim, cruel Polynesian god who demanded a special kind of sacrifice — young virgins. He came down to the beach for a hunt with one quarry: a sophomore, sweet, naive, drop-dead gorgeous, and — like so many other girls — very into Adonis. I’m clear on this last point because she was a pretty good friend of mine then and Adonis was a frequent topic of conversation. Let’s call her Melpomene.  Adonis wanted little Melpomene in an extremely Zeus-like way. To his sorrow, however, she was a member of the “Christian promise ring wearers.” The beach can change things though. In this case, yesternight, Adonis happened upon her at a spirited gathering in another hotel room, which I too happened to attend. It’s germane to note though Mel claimed Christianity often and adamantly, like many of Southern extraction, Melpomene was a “buffet believer,” and though fornication was of the devil, the Almighty tended to wink at a little drunkenness.

Since all but the most obtuse of you see what’s coming, I need to be VERY clear about something, Adonis did nothing illegal nor strictly “wrong.” He DID NOT ply Melpomene with drink. Her cheerleader “friends” took care of that long before he showed up. Furthermore, he DID NOT “force himself” upon her. She was smitten with him and was playing an intense game of tonsil hockey by the time I took my leave of the soiree and — apparently — kept a date with a piercing parlor. Yes, Melpomene was drunk, but I’d have to say she was competent, if veeerrrryy uninhibited.

BoromirStarkStill, Eddard Stark had nothing on the idealistic boy I once was, and though crisp blacks and whites have blurred into greys on the monochromatic palette of grimdark reality, I cling to a few unshakable beliefs, and one is an honorable man sees no difference between a girl “drunk enough to say yes” and one “too drunk to say no.” Regardless after I left, the freshly minted pair went to our fleabag suite of rooms where Adonis put another v-card notch on his lipstick case. Melpomene stumbling from the room wrapped in a sheet to use our facilities woke me to my previously mentioned hangover. Our eyes met; she smiled a sheepish smile then turned away. Back then, I didn’t know what “The Walk of Shame” was.

I took the opportunity to slip into the bedroom and change clothes. The beds were pushed together and Tywin would have been satisfied had Tyrion and Sansa’s chamber been so accoutred following their wedding night. I changed clothes and pointedly ignored Adonis. While getting fresh clothes, I slid something from the bottom of my bag into my pocket. Emotion roiled my guts in a way I hadn’t felt it since I was a child when waves of impotent rage overtook me when someone bullied me, which was often.

In case you didn't know what a balisong is.

In case you didn’t know what a balisong is.

Out on the porch where the rest of the guys gathered, I sat down on the steps and tried to focus on a crack in the sidewalk. By-the-by, Adonis and Mel appeared, attired for the beach. When they reached the bottom step, I stood and drew the balisong from my pocket. I was spared a knowledge of prison life when, just as I stood up, a guy I’ll call “Big Bob” put his hand on my shoulder to gently but firmly press me back down onto the top step. He looked at me, shook his head and — as scalding rage tears wound down my blistered cheeks — quietly said, “I know, but it’s not worth the cost.”

Instead of riding back Saturday with Robby, I packed, met up with two guys from a town near home who were going back that afternoon, passed out from emotional exhaustion in the back seat by the time they left Horry County, and slept until they woke me up in front of The Little Barn. Mama saw the earring soon as I walked in, put her right index fingernail (she had such beautiful long nails) into the pyrite-plated hoop, and snatched it out with the words, “I prayed for a boy; not a girl.”

I’ve wanted to tell that story for a long time. I don’t know why.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Ten Years or Another Lifetime? Most Nights, I Don’t Know.

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Read ’em and weep. I know I did.

I was on my way to being very chipper and upbeat this morning until I looked at the calendar and saw the date was October 23. I had almost forgotten . . . the key being ALMOST.

Ten years ago this afternoon, at 1:00 PM to be precise, life handed me the mother of all lemons. Actually, that’s a little too “cutesy.” The long story is ten years ago this morning I took one of the Magnificent 7, which is my euphemism for the seven events that radically changed my life for the worse. Each of the seven were hammer blows against my emotional well-being and each of the seven — in seven different ways — shattered me mentally and emotionally as easily as a cinder block dropped from a highway overpass will shatter a vehicle’s windshield and with about as much warning. Ten years ago today, following a short and slanderous hearing at 301 Camperdown Way, I was summarily and officially dismissed from my teaching post at Woodmont High School.

The short story is I was lied to and about, publicly humiliated, then fired from teaching. I’d been exiled from the one place where I’d normally felt safest, happiest, and strongest. For the first time in my life, I had been kicked out of school.

I plan to post all the documents I still have from the hearing and the aftermath. When I do, you can read them for yourselves. I don’t have the mental energy to type out that story here. I love this blog. It’s not much, but it’s mine and I’ve tried to steer clear of controversy and painful memories, but to deny the scars is to deny the events which caused them and any event that makes you seriously question whether or not you really want to go on living in a world where things like this can happen to you is much too important to be ignored.

I haven’t had many things happen to me that have affected me as much or as long as getting fired did. It was two years before I was able to get back into teaching for good and I wouldn’t have gotten a break then except my alma mater needed an English teacher and the assistant principal had been my Geometry teacher and the principal had student taught my senior class in something or other. They knew me personally so they didn’t really look at anything from “The File.”

It wasn’t the same though. For one thing, Thomas Wolfe was absolutely right when he said, “You can’t go home again.” Teaching in what had been my AP English classroom in my senior year forced me every day for 180 straight days to confront ANOTHER one of the Magnificent 7 so when a library job opened up one district over, I took it.

So, it’s been ten years and the pain is just as fresh in my mind now as it was then. I can still taste the metallic tang of pure adrenaline fueled fear in my mouth when I think about the hearing. I can still see the faces of the “witnesses.” More than anything though, I can still hear the thunderous silence of the people I had called friends and colleagues for almost nine years. I had helped these people in more ways than I can imagine. I’d tried to be there for them, but when I was strung up and dangling, none of them . . . NOT A SINGLE ONE bothered to vouch for my character.

I remember leaving the district office with Budge in tears and Mama in a rage like I hadn’t seen on her face since I was a third grader and Ray Bates’ mother (God rest her soul) grabbed me by the collar and shook me because I had finally stood up to Ray’s bullying. People have asked me if I was angry and I always tell them I was too concerned with keeping Mama and Budge from getting locked up to be angry. I just wanted to get home.

Thirty minutes after leaving the pillory, I went back to the school and to the room I’d called home for so long. It was a mess because the string of subs who had kept the class during my six weeks suspension while I awaited a hearing hadn’t been able to control my hellions or my brilliant AP History students. While I was gathering my things, the assistant principal who had been the main “detective / witch hunter” for my case came into the room and asked me “So how’d things go?” I still thank God and 300 mg of Effexor CR for not decking her in her smug little mouth right then. As it was, I snatched my posters from the wall, took a few folders from my filing cabinet, and collected my most prized belongings from my beautiful desk that my friend Brian Ashley had helped me restore five summers before , then I walked out.

I’ve never been back.

Now as a sorry excuse for a Christian, I do not believe in karma, but sometimes it is tempting when I consider this. None of the three students whose complaints against me triggered the whole debacle ever graduated from high school. The principal who threw me under the bus didn’t make it through the year herself but was dismissed in disgrace partly because parents complained to the district office about her attending home football games about “two and a half sheets to the wind” as we say in the country. The superintendent who was such a jerk over the entire thing was fired by the school board within a year, partly over allegations of misconduct with a couple of female principals and partly for just basically being an ass of the 33rd degree. Finally, the district lawyer who prosecuted my case was fired and arrested a few years later after a district computer technician found alleged child pornography on the computer in the lawyer’s office. The child porn charges were eventually dropped because no one could prove the boys were underage, but the computer crimes stuck and he may still go to jail.

Coincidence or karma? You decide.

Love y’all. Keep the faith and the feet clean.

Friday Night Lights Shine on the Friday Night Blues

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In the five years since my last teaching contract renewed and I left education, I have endure a crippling wave of sadness during the first week of “back to school.” That sadness is never more acute and I never have to struggle harder to keep bullets out of my head, poison out of my system, or my car at the top of cliffs rather than the bottom than at six o’clock on the first full schedule Friday of high school football.

If you’ve never taught in a high school, I can’t adequately describe for you how important Friday nights are, especially here in the Southland. Any school with a football team is a beehive all day on Friday as the guys (and a girl or two) walk the halls in their jerseys and the cheerleaders wear their non-dress-code-conforming uniforms to school. The day is spent making plans for who is riding with whom to where and who is bringing the illicit substances to the bonfire or house party after the game.

I used to eat up every moment of it. Every Friday for the fifteen years I taught, I was young again for ten Fridays in the fall and as long as my school’s team managed to stay in the playoffs. The kids used to take me back to the Friday nights when my friends and I were the ones planning. From my freshman year through my junior year, I went to more games than I missed. I even went to a game or two my senior year even though the taste of bile and ashes had replaced the once-sweet euphoria by then, but that’s another story.

Several of my friends of those days were football players and one of my lasting regrets is never having tried to get on the team. I was acquainted with many of the cheerleaders and wrote essays for more than one of them so they could keep good enough grades to stay on the squad. My best buddy at the time, Robby, was first trumpet in the band, so I always sat as close to the band as possible. Another regret is never trying to get in the band. I guess I can chalk up my lack of participation to a few things. Some are gifted with athletic prowess and some with musical talent. My gift was, and is, memory. Some call it a gift; I lean more towards curse and agree with the Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett when he says

“Memories are killing things. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

God knows I don’t miss much about high school, but I do miss Friday nights. For those aforementioned years in education, I got those Friday nights back, especially the few years when my schools were desperate enough for warm bodies to ask me to be an assistant football coach. I have a painfully entertaining story of my first game as a JV football coach which involves me, an away game, and a whistle. Maybe I’ll tell the entire story sometime, but for now suffice it to say we lost the game and the night in general was a cascade of fiascoes one atop another. Actually, that phrase pretty much describes my whole football coaching career. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Now though, I’m a civilian. Here it is 6:30 on the first big football Friday. Oh, I know I could go to a local game anyway, but it’s not the same. Something about plunking down your teacher id and walking in the gate for free just adds a special sweetness to the night. The greatest reward, though, is the smiles on the faces of the boys on the field when they catch sight of you on the track or in the stands. Little Johnny may have been the bane of your existence in second block all year, but come Monday, when you tell him how awesome his one tackle of the night was, you’ll have him in your back pocket. Trust me on that one . . . I know from experience.

Go out and pull for your favorite teams and take care everyone.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Deuce Part Deux — Laura-Lou Got Married

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Laura and her mama, Connie.

So for several years, Laura (Deuce), Budge, and I pretty much hung together non-stop. Laura had many other friends from the school district and Starbucks. She even kept in touch with a good many of her high school friends who moved away from Ware Shoals. She has one high school girlfriend named Shaye Hall whom I am quite ready to meet and ask a question or two about a certain New Kids on the Block concert, but that is a story for another time.

We were together a great deal, but not exclusively. We would usually eat together on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the week and at least once, if not twice on the weekends. We also had long stretches when we didn’t get to see much of Deuce. She’s a pretty amazing actress (but what else can you expect from Drew Barrymore’s bestie?) and a member of the Laurens County Community Theater.

Some members of the LCCT. Laura is the cow.

For about a month each fall and spring, we’d be lucky to see her once a week because she’d have to sandwich rehearsals between two jobs. The shows have always been worth it. Her portrayal of Olene Whiffer is especially memorable. Think Steel Magnolias meets Gypsy Rose and you’ll have a pretty fair picture of Ms. Whiffer.

The last four years, we’ve also had the ritual of sitting with Laura while she was dead panicked about having a job at the school district, which has been her main source of income and benefits. With all the cutbacks since the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, she’s never been sure if her job was next on the chopping block or not. So far though, she’s always managed to have a spot. It probably doesn’t hurt that the superintendent and the high school principal — as well as most everyone else in District 56 — loves her almost as much as we do.

The Gang from Starbucks

Work kept us apart, the theater kept us apart, and football season kept us apart. Once Laura started working at the high school, she took over the Spirit Club. As a “perk” of this office, she got to be at EVERY football game, fair weather or foul, home or away, heat or cold. When I was still at Bell Street, I’d come to a few games as well, but I never made the trek to Union or York. For the record, Union, SC is impossible to get straight to. It’s one of those “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” places.

But I digress.

One issue which never kept us apart, however, was Laura’s dating life. Without putting too fine a point on it, she didn’t have much of one. Now you might ask, as I did when I didn’t know her as well as I do now, how such a beautiful, classy, and outgoing young woman could NOT have three dates per weekend. The answer lies in which Laura shows up for the evening — Ware Shoals Laura or Simpsonville Laura.

See, Simpsonville Laura went to etiquette classes and knows which utensil to start eating with at the most swanky restaurants and receptions. Simpsonville Laura is demure, very sweet, kind, and forgiving. Simpsonville Laura drinks Blue Moon with an orange wedge on the lip of the glass.

This is Simpsonville Laura dangerously close to morphing into Ware Shoals Laura.

Ware Shoals Laura shoots tequila. Not often, but she does. Ware Shoals Laura is the slightly less refined and considerably more dangerous alter ego of Simpsonville Laura. Ware Shoals Laura also went to etiquette classes but she mostly remembers which knife on the table is sharpest and will cut a heart out best. The funny thing is, you could be sitting next to Simpsonville Laura one minute and someone — often me — would say something stupid and when you’d look over, you’d be sitting next to Ware Shoals Laura.

Simpsonville Laura has always loved men with dark handsome looks; Ware Shoals Laura has always loved men with barbecue sauce, Texas Pete, and a side of green beans. Not every guy, not even most guys, had what it takes to deal with sporadic outbreaks of Ware Shoals Laura. Thom didn’t, Eric didn’t, some guy from Greenwood who ate one dinner with us at Wasabi’s didn’t, and poor Pete (Pete the Dude, not Pete the Cat. That’s another story) CERTAINLY didn’t. He’s still got a few things to learn about himself I do believe.

But one did, and that’s where the buckeye comes in.

Laura and Mr. Dick, giver of the sacred buckeye.

Now why in the name of all that’s holy a MICHIGAN WOLVERINE fan would have a BUCKEYE in her possession was somewhat lost on me until I heard the story. Laura’s grandfather, Mr. Dick, had given Laura a genuine buckeye when she was but a wee lass and told her it was because she was greatly loved and very special and when she finally met a boy she loved as much as Mr. Dick loved her, a boy as special to her as she was to Mr. Dick, she should give him the buckeye and he’d be hers forever.

Deuce kept that buckeye a long time and might have kept it forever if it hadn’t been for the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Now this particular group of which Laura is but a junior member is worthy of a blog all their own, but for the sake of time I will summarize. The Ya-Ya’s are a group of young ladies and older women who regularly visit one another, but once a year, they have a Ya-Ya convention at the Beach. It was during one of these annual maritime rendezvous when one of the top ranking Ya-Ya’s mentioned she had a son she wanted Laura to meet.

Some of the Ya-Ya's in the Caribbean.

His name was Cameron Hall and his mother, Elaine, introduced the two of them later that summer. The rest, as the old story goes, is history.

Budge and I knew Laura was going out regularly with Cameron and I figured he had to be at least a decent guy because he was willing to drive up an hour and some change one way from Columbia every time they went on a date. I didn’t know HOW well they were getting along until Laura, Budge, and I were on the way to supper one evening last summer and she ended a cell phone call with “I Love You!” I automatically asked her how her daddy was doing because Mr. Ray Davis was the ONLY person Budge or I EVER heard Laura say “I love you” to on the phone. She was quiet for a minute then said, “Um, That wasn’t Daddy, that was Cameron.”

Wow. This was SERIOUS.

It was so serious she introduced him to Budge and I, which was something she’d only done on one other occasion and only because she wanted some good excuses to dump the Greenwood guy from Wasabi’s. It was SO serious that the night we went to meet Cameron and Laura for dinner at TGI Friday’s in Greenville, I not only traded my normal T-shirt and basketball shorts for khakis and a collared polo, I also wore BIG BOY SHOES instead of my neon colored Crocs.  Laura noticed immediately and later told Cameron that was a fairly big deal.

The minute I saw him I didn’t like him. He was handsome in just the slightly rough way I knew Deuce loved. He was a football fan and he liked USC and . . . well, he was just about as perfect a match as is possible in this fallen world of ours. I didn’t like him because I knew he was probably the one who was going to break up the band. Once I saw him look at Laura though, I had to get over it. He loved her and the way he looked at her proved it. What’s more, he’s a good and gentle man. Hardworking and kind and he treats Deuce as if the Sun and stars spun around her hair on a halo.

This Christmas, after a little more than a year together, Laura gave Cameron Mr. Dick’s buckeye.

The shoals that give Ware Shoals its name.

I started waiting for the inevitable call.

It came this past May after the Ware Shoals Catfish Feastival (and NO that is not a misspelling). Cameron had gotten Big Momma’s 100-year-old diamond ring from Connie, Laura’s mama, and had it reset for her. He, with some timely help from young Jacob, gave her the ring on the rocks of the shoals in sight of the house where Laura grew up near the middle of town she loves like no other place on Earth. My Deuce was getting married.

Cam's beard wasn't that grey when he and Deuce started dating. Just saying.

So, just a tiny bit more than one month ago today, I dusted off my wedding manual, checked over the procedure for properly endorsing a marriage license, and sat going over the vows and ceremony as Budge drove following Laura, Cameron, and Jake, Cameron’s son, down to the Isle Of Palms near Charleston. There, in a simple white dress and Cam in nice khaki slacks repeated after me in cargoes and purple Crocs their vows and “I do’s.” I made it through almost the entire ceremony without crying, but my voice caught just a bit during the prayer.

Last week, they moved in to their new house together in Laurens, SC and tomorrow night we’re gathering in Ware Shoals for a swanky reception. Hopefully, Cameron will let me borrow Deuce back long enough to show me which fork to use.

It hurts a little knowing I won’t get to see Deuce as much as we did, but I look forward to seeing what kind of beautiful love grows from that small brown seed from the Aesculus glabra 

It’s common name is The American Buckeye.

Love y’all!

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! 🙂