Collards and Black-Eyed Peas, the Witches Brew

I asked. “What do witches eat?” “Witches loves pork meat,” she said. “They loves rice and potatoes. They loves black-eyed peas and cornbread. Lima beans, too, and collard greens and cabbage, all cooked in pork fat. Witches is old folks, most of them. They don’t care none for low-cal. You pile that food on a paper plate, stick a plastic fork in it, and set it down by the side of a tree. And that feeds the witches.” Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil— John Berendt

It is a witches brew that feeds Southerners who aren’t witches, especially on New Year’s Day. Gather ‘round children, your social studies lesson is about to begin.

Southern culture is steeped with superstition, from painting our porch ceilings “haint blue” (Gulla/Geechie) to protect against evil spirits, to hanging a mirror beside our front door (Appalachian) to occupy the devil. Another superstition involves the love for black-eyed peas and collard greens and their relationship to luck and prosperity.

Eating collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day are a Southern tradition that has spread to other parts of the land, south to north and south to west and the historian in me loves to ask the question, “Where did the tradition of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day originate and why?”

As with most “ancient” history, there is “gracious plenty” of speculation and like all histories, are written by the victors or at least by those people who remained in power.

We Southerners can all agree that peas are the embodiment of blessings or luck and collard greens, prosperity but how did it get to be that way? Why did it spread so widely?

Peas are the oldest of the New Year’s traditions, used by Jewish folk to celebrate the New Year as far back as 500 AD. The Jewish tradition of eating black-eyed peas for fertility and luck continues today during the Jewish New Year some 2500 years later. Our Southern tradition doesn’t date that far back but is just as strongly embedded.

The origin is not as clear-cut in the Southern United States. According to “some” White Southerners, peas became a New Year’s staple because of that dastardly General William T. Sherman and his infamous “March to the Sea” during the Civil War. According to “some” historians, Sherman deemed salt pork and dried peas to be unfit for human consumption and left them behind, giving starving Southerners and Confederate soldiers a “blessing” as they were “lucky” enough to have it to stave off starvation.

In another tradition, Black Southerners, read slaves, made black-eyed peas a staple for New Year’s celebrations because the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, and black-eyed peas were their only abundant food source.

Once considered a crop fit only for livestock, starving Southerners of both races consumed black-eyed peas out of necessity and transformed them into a symbolic and well-loved tradition.

I’m sure there is truth in both stories but what I know as truth, black-eyed peas date from the time slaves brought them from Africa. Black-eyed peas became so pervasive throughout the old slave states that black-eyed peas appear in recipes as varied as Cowboy Caviar down in Texas to Hoppin’ John in South Carolina to Peas with Ham up in North Carolina.

Dried beans of all varieties have been a staple, certainly a staple in my childhood, of Southern cooking especially during the dismal, gray days of winter and have a quality of taste that far surpasses those canned today. They were never used as livestock food during my lifetime unless the cow got loose in the garden. In my grandmother’s kitchen, dried peas were sorted through, washed, and then allowed to soak in water overnight before being rinsed again and put on to cook with salt, onions, garlic, and, of course, pork fat.

Collard greens are a bit more straight forward. Collard greens, along with their cousin turnip greens, are typically one of the only fresh vegetables that you can find in January in the South, so their place in the New Year’s food bill of fare is quite practical. They are also inexpensive and nutritious. More importantly, they are quite tasty when cooked in bacon grease, salt pork, or with a ham hock and seasoned with red pepper flakes and vinegar to add a little heat and tartness.

How collards came to be regarded as a precursor to prosperity is unknown, except that collard greens are green like paper money. I have been told “every mouthful of collard greens is worth a thousand dollars in your pocket.” For this reason, greens have replaced cabbage or sauerkraut in most Southern New Year’s celebrations.

With all that pot liquor created from cooking you must have something to sop it up with and that leads us to cornbread, corn being a staple in the South, both for animal and human consumption. Over time I have come to believe that cornbread makes us stop and remember what we have and where we came from. It harkens to our “roots.” Pones of cornbread prepared in cast iron pans passed down from the generations before us and seasoned by the hands of angels no longer with us. Rich in flavor, yellow in color, this bread has been compared to the color of gold and thought to bring good fortune and wealth.

Every Southern supper (dinner to you Yanks) involves a protein and hogs were the cheap staple even if you ate “high on the hog.” Slaves, later freemen, and poor white farmers alike found ways to prepare lesser cuts, making them palatable to the point of being preferred.  Hog jowls or ham hocks are slowly cooked, the meat picked out before being added to collards and peas already cooked with salt pork. Spareribs slow cooked over a barbacoa, I’m salivating a bit.  One tradition says that a pig cannot turn its head, which means it’s always looking forward as we should be looking to the future.

How peas and collards culturally diffused to parts north and west is easy to understand and troubling for a progressive Southerner. The Great Migration was one of the largest movements of people in United States history. Six million Black people moved from the American South to Northern, Midwestern, and Western states from the 1910s until the 1970s.

The driving force behind the mass movement was to escape racial violence, pursue economic and educational opportunities, and obtain freedom from the oppression of Jim Crow in my beloved South. With their migration they took their culture and their traditions and passed them on to other folk. Traditions that included black eye-peas and collards. Traditions that added vivid colors to the canvas of life in the United States.

I have been lucky, and blessed, if not rich…rich monetarily that is. My life has been filled with richness attributed to family and friends, acquaintances, and students I taught and coached. The people I have been lucky enough to run across in my seven decades on earth. I don’t know how much to attribute to eating black-eyed peas and collards, dumb luck, or a benevolent Supreme Being. What I most appreciate are the diverse traditions and the diverse people who make me smile and add richness to my own off-white canvas.

My hope for the New Year is that we all will celebrate a newfound prosperity, monetary or otherwise, good luck, good health, and peace. Peace from Covid, war, and peace in our own lives. I hope the New Year brings people together with understanding rather than forcing them apart with disinformation.

Happy New Years from the Foothills of the Blue Ridge. Enjoy your peas and collards.

Sources:

https://www.southernliving.com/holidays-occasions/new-years/new-years-traditions-black-eyed-peas

https://www.gastonoutside.com/post/collards-and-black-eyed-peas-the-history-of-new-year-s-day-food-and-where-to-find-it-in-gaston

https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/migrations/great-migration

https://www.allrecipes.com/article/how-to-cook-dried-beans/

And a lifetime living in the South.

Don Miller’s latest release is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes,” a collection of short stories and essays on life in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It can be purchased in paperback or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=FXC3AISNRIU7&keywords=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes&qid=1640701551&s=books&sprefix=Pig+trails+an%2Cstripbooks%2C299&sr=1-1

All I Wanted for Christmas Was Peter Pan

I’m struggling! I once celebrated Christmas with the wide-eyed expectations of a ten-year-old little boy…now I wish that it would just go away and leave me alone. Peter Pan grew up and became the Grinch.

Don’t get me wrong. I spent a wonderful Christmas Eve with family and my wide eyed five- and eight-year-old grandchildren and really hit a homerun with skates and helmets. My brother and his wife hit a homerun with a hover toy. I’m not sure my daughter’s puppy, Elanor, would agree with the hover toy.  She was terrorized and not by Christmas’ ghosts, past, present, and future.

I’m the one terrorized by Christmas’ ghosts, past, present, and future.

It is the preparations, even the anticipation of preparations. It is the pre-Christmas rush and press to get everything “just right” that turns into “just get done.” It is the anxiety of getting to the “blessed event” that has turned me sour.

Thank goodness for Amazon. Christmas joy has turned into Christmas joyless. “Our Dear Savior’s Birth” has become too commercialized although I really appreciate the new Fitbit and flashlight enabled stocking hat my daughter and son-in-law gave me. Does that come under hypocrisy?

Another “extended” family gathering today, Christmas Day. No gifts to worry about, just food and family fellowship. I’m not really family. My bride and I are only related by marriage. They are fine folk, but I am attempting to “self-medicate” with Jack Daniels and Coke just in case.

My forced smile will cause muscle aches all the way down my back before this day is over. Pa Humbug and Ma Humbug doing what is expected and not enjoying it one bit. How and why did I turn into such an Ebenezer Scrooge?

It is over and I survived…okay, I enjoyed myself. I didn’t have to force a smile and my back doesn’t ache any more than it normally does. Am I disappointed that I enjoyed myself?

Great food and a fresh audience to try out my story-telling skills. I won’t enjoy the outcomes tomorrow. What a great spread, I have no self-control when it comes to food. The banana puddin’ was outstanding, but my gastric system is already complaining.

So…what do you want to do Pa Humbug? I don’t know but visions of red and green lights strung on palm trees appeal to me. Or strung from the mast of a sailboat…even a tiny Sunfish. Ornaments in the shape of pink flamingoes make me smile. I could self-meditate with an umbrella drink just as well as a Jack and Coke.

I haven’t answered my own questions. Would celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean ala Jimmy Buffett really make a difference? Why did Peter Pan grow up? Why don’t I enjoy Christmas anymore? Is it my narcissism that Christmas is no longer about me? Me! Me! Me!

A New Years’ resolution is in order. Find your inner child and bring back a small part of what you have lost. Whatever it takes, find him before another Christmas goes down the tubes.  I know where to look. He is lost next to my sense of humor. You make your own joy, and it is certainly worth looking for. I know where to look for that too, it is inside and not outside.

Happy New Year!

Of Bubble Lights, Pointy Plastic Icicles, and Ghost Stories-A Christmas Memory

If you are lucky enough to have had a “normal” childhood, I’m sure you have warm memories of Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the other dozen or so celebrations that occur this time of the year. I’m not sure what normal means, I just know the Christmas of my childhood was wonderous. I’ve decided to list some of my memories and hope they might trigger some for you. Most are from the Fifties and Sixties before I realized Peter Pan was a myth and I was forced to grow up.

Trapsing through the fields with my father looking for the perfect wild growing cedar tree to chop down and then dragging it home. I remember asking why there were so many cedar trees growing along the fence line and being told birds eat cedar berries and sit on barbed wire fences and poop. The seed that made it through their digestive system germinates and a tree grows. Science and Christmas memories.

Bubble lights strung on a cedar tree that had to warm up before they bubbled.  I remember waiting for them to bubble with anxious anticipation and I can still hear their gurgle in my head. Later they were strung on a fake ‘metal’ Christmas tree waiting to electrocute us all.

Pointy plastic icicles hanging from a tree so sharp they could have stood in for a dagger during a home invasion and silver tinsel hung “oh so” precisely and used Christmas after Christmas…even on the silver, metal Christmas tree.

Helping, you should read, “being in the way.” Helping to hang ornaments and dropping one of my mother’s oldest and most favorite. Seeing the pain in her eyes despite assurances it was okay.

The year Santa brought a full-sized bicycle and a three-day rainstorm that kept me wondering if I would ever get to ride it. It didn’t stop me from riding it back and forth in our small living room until strong orders to do otherwise.

Strange one: Sitting in a dark closet telling ghost stories to my brother and cousins on Christmas Eve as we waited for the family festivities to begin. That may explain a great deal of adult dysfunction on their part…and mine. They always requested my renditions of Thriller’s “Pigeons from Hell.” As our family grew, so did my audience and suddenly a Christmas tradition was born.

A windup metal robot gifted by my Uncle Olin, that walked, sparked, flashed, and smoked. It also reversed when it ran into something. Not very impressive by today’s standards but innovative in 1957 and a glorious gift for a seven-year-old boy.

Billy Vaughn, Andy Williams, and Perry Como singing from the huge cabinet stereo…ad nauseum. How many versions of “Silent Night” are too many versions? Where my mother was concerned, you cannot have too many versions of “Silent Night.”

It wasn’t Christmas until I heard Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”

My church’s Christmas play with shepherds dressed in plaid bathrobes with towels wrapped around their heads tied with bailing twine. Shepherd’s hooks wired to make the hook.

An angel dressed in cheese cloth with wings made with coat hangers for structure and wrapped in tinsel presided over a ‘Betsy Wetsy” doll standing in for Baby Jesus.

Being “promoted” from shepherd to one of the Three Kings. I used the same bathrobe but had a gold scarf wrapped around my head like a turban and carried a foil wrapped cigar box to present to the “Betsy Wetsy’ baby Jesus instead of a shepherd’s hook.

The cookies and mulled cider after the play as we sat around the Christmas tree decorated with construction paper in Sunday school, waiting for Santa to make an appearance to give every child in the church a gift. We were a small church, the gifts inexpensive, and Santa looked and sounded like my Uncle James.  Fun was had by all and appreciated.

My first “date”, an early teen Christmas affair. A “goob” the size Mt. Everest appeared in the middle of my forehead, but it didn’t matter. I was so nervous with anticipation I threw up and wasn’t allowed to go. Later I was so embarrassed I tried to hide every time I saw the young lady.

Playing my drum solo when the school choir sang “Little Drummer Boy” on the last day of school before Christmas break. I was scared to the point of nausea…a recurring theme? It was the last offering, and I had the entire Christmas concert to think about it. I survived it but have always wondered why Mary allowed the Little Drummer Boy to wake up Baby Jesus by pounding on a drum.

Loading up in cars and traveling over our rural area singing Christmas Carols to the “sick and shet in” and shedding tears because we stopped at my home to sing to my mother. “Shet” is how the minister said shut…or it was Lester “Roadhog” Moran.1

Pink coconut caused by my fathers “barked up”, bloody knuckles from grating fresh coconut for Mother’s ambrosia or coconut cake.

Going to the Belk Brothers and Woolworth in Monroe, NC with my father early on Christmas Eve. I remember the press of people and the Christmas scenes in the Belk Brothers’ windows.

The man with no legs sitting in front of Belk’s selling pencils and my father’s tears as he dropped money in the man’s tin cup.

Eating Woolworth’s warm cashew nuts as we drove home, the bags of fruit and nuts he always bought to fill our Christmas stockings lining the backseat. The aroma of tangerines still takes me to Christmas.

The Christmas Eve reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” My vision was not of “sugar plums” but included a Sgt. Sauders “Combat” Thompson machine gun or a “Rifleman” Winchester and a lifetime’s supply of caps to shoot in them.

The annual drive through the community looking at everyone’s Christmas decorations.

Photographs from Christmases past. The family, still intact, sitting around a dining table in my grandmother’s small dining room. A faded one of my grandmother standing behind my seated grandfather. A picture of my brother, little “Stevie Reno”, opening a gift and presenting it to the camera lens along with a broad smile.  

“Little” Donnie dressed like Fred Kirby, a local TV cowboy and Roy Rogers want-to-be. My cowboy hat at a jaunty angle, a western vest over my pajamas, and two silver cap pistols “tied down”, gunslinger style. “Take that Black Bart! Bam, bam, bam.”

I find as I get older my memories have become snatches of events and I hate to admit it, some of those memories are dimming. I’m sure this is a normal occurrence. I hope it is a normal occurrence. I’m writing memories for that reason.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I hope your Christmas memories are, well, memorable.

1Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys’ “Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School” was a comedic LP by the Statler Brothers that made fun of early country music and radio. It has nothing to do with Christmas except that I was introduced to it and a comely young brunette during a Christmas break somewhere in the dimness of my past. Christmas “spirits” may have been involved and would account for the dimness.

The Old Roadhog and his Cowboys

Don Miller’s newest release is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and may be downloaded or purchased in paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1NL4KPTB0R4EY&keywords=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes&qid=1639579530&sprefix=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes%2Caps%2C224&sr=8-1

The Wishbook

…the Sears catalog, “serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.” The 1943 Sears News Graphic

Someone shared a memory and I fell into a rabbit hole. Later, I was looking at Amazon offerings on Cyber-Monday when the memory arrived-The Sears Wishbook.

When I poured over the offerings from the Sears Catalog, I never thought of it as a historical source. I was a child and perused it as most children did, wishing.  Wishing I had the gazillion piece “Fort Apache” set, the Lionel train set, a JC Higgins’ 100 Bicycle, the shotgun being hawked by Ted Williams, just to name a few. Somewhere along my pathway, I did own a Lionel train set, a hand-me-down from an older cousin, and a JC Higgins double barrel. Wish I knew what happened to them.

The arrival of the Sears Christmas “Wishbook” was a highly anticipated event. Not just by children. I remember my mother’s excitement and I had to wait in line for the opportunity to leaf through its five hundred or so pages.

The 1961 Wishbook cover I probably “wished” over.

The first Wishbook dropped from the presses in 1933 and according to History.com “Items featured in the first catalogue included the popular Miss Pigtails doll, Lionel electric train sets, a Mickey Mouse watch, boxes of chocolate and even live singing canaries.” It had not changed much in the Fifties and Sixties, but I don’t remember singing canaries.

Miss Pigtails…I think.

The catalogue would arrive in our mailboxes in late August or early September and soon became as much a holiday tradition as “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” with warm, colorful Christmas scenes decorating the cover and the pages within. Thank you, RFD1 for the hours I flipped through the pages, defining, and refining my Christmas choices.

The Sears Catalog was a boom for those of us who lived in rural and isolated areas. It was a boom for R. W. Sears, a railroad agent who bought a shipment of watches to sell as a side business. He was later joined by Alvah C. Roebuck, a watchmaker, and in 1893 Sears and Roebuck Mail Order Company was born. The business quickly expanded to selling more than watches and the first Sears Mail Order Catalogue was mailed out in the late 1890s.

The Sears and Roebuck mail order business quickly took off. The Sears catalogue contained hundreds of pages of merchandise by the late 1890s. Rural Americans, two-thirds of the population at that time, could now purchase hundreds of different items—shoes, women’s garments, including unmentionables, horse drawn wagons, and for a time horseless carriages, fishing tackle, furniture, china plate sets, musical instruments, firearms, and bicycles—all by mail.

See the source image
The Sears Motor Buggy had a top speed of twenty-five mph. It was sold from 1908-1912 but became a casualty of Henry Ford’s Model T

You could order anything from a Sears Catalog. Anything would include a kit home called the Sears cottage. Between 1908 and 1940, seventy-five thousand kit homes were sold.  They were well designed, well made, and economical. Many of those homes still exist today.

How much did a Sears kit house cost? Comprising more than 10,000 pieces and materials, the kits retailed for between $600 and $6,000 and were available in over two-hundred styles. That would be about $10,000 to $100,000 in today’s money. Need financing, Sears did that too.

See the source image
One of the more expensive homes.

Need furniture, appliances, and tools to finish the project? Sears had it all. Window dressings, stoves to cook on, dining rooms to eat in, Sears was your “one stop” for all your shopping needs and with “quality” too.

With the population moving to the cities, Sears built its first brick and mortar store in 1925. Located by design in working-class areas, Sears was one of the first department stores to cater to working men. Durability over fashion, quality tools, and hardware were mainstays.

Not that women were ignored. “Fashionable” clothing, “exotic” perfumes, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, and sewing machines for those who wanted to sew their own and look fashionable doing it. Key up a mental vision of June Cleaver cleaning house in a dress featuring Peter Pan collars, bouffant petticoats, and high heels.

See the source image
The first Sears store. Chicago 1925

Sears was responsible for industry firsts. Kenmore sewing machines appeared in 1913 and expanded over the years to include vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and air conditioners, followed by other quality appliances. Sears sold its first Craftsman tools in 1927 expanding to include power tools, lawn mowers, and garden tractors. At the time these were quality tools that carried lifetime guarantees.

All-State Insurance was a Sears creation as was the Discovery Card. Within a decade over twenty million Americans had a Discovery Card.

I’ve drifted away from the Sears Catalogue and into a history lesson.

The Sears Catalogue and The Wishbook don’t exist any longer with its glossy pages of colorful pictures. In the early Nineties it became a casualty of the internet age and big box stores. As the country roads of my youth became a casualty of the interstate systems and urban sprawl, The Wishbook ceased to exist anywhere but online and in my mind.

See the source image
1899 Sears Catalogue Cover

Sears, itself, became a casualty of its own making. Others emulated it and did it better. Big box stores like Walmart and K Mart sold more for less…and with less quality. Sears followed suit but couldn’t keep up, closing many stores and laying off its workers.

Sears sold itself to K Mart, Kenmore to Amazon, and Craftsman to Stanley Black and Decker. Finally, it filed for bankruptcy in late 2018. One more icon of the past gone…at least, in its original form.2

According to author Christine Brae, “Time waits for no one” but the little boy in me still remembers the glorious day when the Sears Wishbook arrived. I can close my eyes and see the Christmas scenes with gayly clad boys and girls. I can see the toys I could only dream about and remember some that found their way under the Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas morning.

The Wishbook harkens to those days in my life when my biggest worry was if “I had been a good little boy.” Christmas carols, Mother’s Ambrosia, Nannie’s quilted stockings filled with fruit, nuts, and butter mints. My father’s bloody knuckles from grating coconut for coconut cake. Christmas was about family gatherings on Christmas Eve.

Early on Christmas morning, whispering to my little brother as we waited in anxious anticipation for our parents to wake up and take us to see what was under the tree. Hoping there was no bag of coal or bundle of switches. Peeking around the corner attempting to see what might be there before scurrying back to bed when we heard our parents’ bedroom door open.

It is about The Wishbook and the warm memories it triggered.

***

 RFD1
Rural Free Delivery (RFD) was a program of the United States Postal Service that began in the late 19th century to deliver mail directly to rural destinations. Until the late 19th century, residents of rural areas had to travel to a post office to pick up their mail or to pay for delivery by a private carrier. RFD post service allowed the distribution of national newspapers and magazines and was responsible for millions of dollars of sales in merchandise to customers through mail-order deliveries in rural areas.

2 Sears is in its final days. There are approximately twenty-three Sears stores still open in the United States, as of November 11, 2021. Of these, six are set to permanently close soon. There is still a Sears presence online that sells familiar Sears products like Kenmore appliances or Craftsman tools.

My author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3IdxEjFJbXm_hKGSr97HEFWc02TNzkZReQYi33Ls4gox_V5KOabXN-Yvg

Memories Revisited…

“One minute, you’re young and fun. And the next, you’re turning down the stereo in your car to see better” –Unknown

Who were these guys? I arrived late to the table and questioned, “How did you guys get so old?” I had made the hour drive to the restaurant thinking of those thrilling days of yesteryear, seeing them as the young men from forty years ago. Young men, full of piss and vinegar, with all their hair in my mind’s eye. Except Stan, Stan never had hair. Obviously, my mind’s eye needs some corrective lenses.

There were nine of us, eight retired coaches and one of our former players.  It had been the player’s idea. An impromptu reunion. I don’t know how many great ideas John has had during his life, but this was assuredly one of the better ones.

We had lived life like dysfunctional brothers for most of a decade and stayed connected for the three decades since. Clay, the head coach and athletic director. Carroll, the secondary coach, and basketball coach. Stan, the offensive line coach, wrestling coach, and later head coach and athletic director after my time. Max, a former player who could coach anything and helped me with the defense when he wasn’t calling plays for the offense. Cooper, the defensive line coach, resident comedian, and Precious Pup. Larry, our JV coach who would become a successful head coach in his own right. Mike, the trainer, and highly successful wrestling coach. John the wide receiver, punter, and wrestler we coached so long ago who went on to a college career before a continuing career as a successful human. Oh, I forgot. There was Don, the linebacker and defensive end coach.

Around the table there were jokes and laughter, stories that had been told before, with embellishment, I’m sure. There was catching up and a bit of talk about those we have lost over the years. Most of our conversations wound from our own craziness to the kids we coached or taught and their craziness. “Do you remember” began many of our conversations.

We were young coaches and teachers in the middle Seventies, in our mid-twenties to early thirties. Some of us fresh out of college were closer in age to our kids than our peers. We became seasoned quickly and somehow never quite gave up our youthful exuberance even as our hair fell out and turned gray. Testosterone ruled the day and sometimes youth is wasted on the young. Many mistakes, many humorous, were made but somehow, we survived and grew into responsible human beings.

There was nothing more important than Friday nights…or preparing for Friday nights and the parties afterward. It was war and losing was an affront to our manhood. One coach described winning as “better than sex.” Sex lasts minutes, winning lasts all week long.

We were a brash, egotistical about our abilities, hardworking, hard partying group. We were the Ivanhoe, King Arthur, and Knights of the Round Table of the football fields. We were Sirs Percival and Galahad seeking our own version of the Holy Grail and fighting opposing knights from the opposite sidelines. Like Percival and Galahad, we never found our Holy Grail, but it didn’t stop us from competing.

There might have been a bit of the wooing of the lovely Rowena or Rebecca but most of us ended up like Brian de Bois-Guilbert, dead on a sword…usually our own sword. It didn’t stop us from trying until marriage and family responsibilities reared their head. I promised not to tell those stories until we were all dead.

As I have become seasoned, or just old, I have come to realize there was much more to those years than the rush of winning football games. There is the rush, but eventually I learned it is about the people. The memories of wins and losses have dimmed over the years but the people…the people in those memories are crystal clear.

It has been almost twenty years since I stood girded for battle on the sidelines of a football field, a whistle or play sheet instead of a sword. I coached the game for thirty years. One might think I would have more ties but in all honestly, I haven’t watched a high school football game live in a decade or more. I’m not motivated. I don’t know the people. I don’t know the players, the coaches, the teachers, and the fans. There are no ties. There is nothing to bind me to the game except my memories.

I am often asked, “What did you do before you retired?” My answer is usually followed by another question, “A teacher and coach?  What did you teach and coach?” Once, I went into a litany of sports and subjects, now I simply say, “Kids, I coached kids.”

It is the memories that bind me to people…to my former students and players like John. It is the memories that bind me to seven balding coaches telling jokes and reminiscing. It is the memories that made it seem like just yesterday I walked off the football field and out of the locker room we once shared.

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” ― John Banville, The Sea

“Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” —Jim Henson

From left to right, from the floor and around the table: Hank the wonder dog, John Black, Stan Hopkins, Clay Bradburn, Larry Frost, Dennis “Max” Massingille, Don Miller, Cooper Gunby, Mike Frye, Carroll Long

Blog image of Mauldin Football from Gwinn Davis.

Don Miller’s author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2n75Gfrb8wkA0AlIhcygC4VnZMTaNWVqzVDEqEKQRuMGy9oc8kN4B5l8I

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

“After all, a woman didn’t leave much behind in the world to show she’d been there. Even the children she bore and raised got their father’s name. But her quilts, now that was something she could pass on.” ― Sandra Dallas

First, the saying for those too young to have heard it “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”–I can’t think of the last time I heard the old saying used. I suspect my grandmother last used it in my presence. The ‘stitch in time’ means the prompt sewing up of a small hole or tear in a piece of material may save the need for more stitching later when the hole has become larger.

So, what does it really mean? I tend to use ‘take care of the trivial things and the big ones won’t ever come up.’ They mean the same thing but ‘a stitch in time’ is more colorful and honestly, has nothing to do with this story unless your “stitch in time” is made with a Singer Sewing Machine.

We’re twenty-one days from Christmas day as I write this and I’m both flooded with Christmas memories and filled with the trepidations associated with depression and not having purchased or created the first Christmas present. The likelihood of me ‘getting on the stick’ is low so instead of “saving nine” by rushing out and Christmas shopping I’ll sit here basking in memories from Christmas’ past.

My grandmother was a creator of Christmas gifts, most sewn on an old Singer Trendle Sewing Machine. She came from a time when Christmas gifts included fruit and nuts, corn shuck or rag dolls, peppermint candy, hand stitched quilts and such. A time when gifts were made or were items, we take for granted now.

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A corn shuck (husk) doll for sale on Ebay. My Grandmother is rolling in her grave.

She told me once how much she enjoyed the tangerines her father, a mercantilist, brought home for Christmas gifts. I didn’t think too much about that until I realized how much harder it was to find tangerines in the rural 1910s as opposed to the rural 1960s.

I have the quilts she sewed for me. Patchwork quilts made from cloth saved from over the years. I’m sure many pieces had special meanings, others just filler. Some of the piece’s hand sewn, others sewn with that old Singer.

She also gave stockings full of gifts that meant something to her. Gifts like she received as a young girl. Apples and oranges, a handful of nuts, a box of butter crème mints or peppermint. Pencils and small flip notebooks. When in college, a book of stamps or postcards to make sure I wrote her.

One year she gave all her grandbabies quilted stockings she made. Somehow, I ended up with one so ugly it was beautiful. Ugly because of the orange and green backing, not my favorite colors, beautiful because she made it.

Both my grandmother and mother had Singer Sewing Machines, my mother a more modern electric model. I remember, as a child, traveling to the Belk Brothers or Woolworth with my mother and grandmother as they perused the stacks of dress patterns until they found something “new” they liked. From there they would go to the fabric section to pick out the cloth they wanted, the salesperson using the length of her stretched out arm to her nose method of measuring.

McCall’s dress pattern from Pinterest

Cutting out the cloth using the patterns, pinning it all together before carefully stitching it up. My mother’s exclamations when something didn’t sew quite right causing her to tear out her seams and start over. Finally starching and ironing out the finished product before wearing it to church on Sunday.

I would say sewing became passe after my mother’s generation. Affordable clothing became too prevalent and time too precious. My wife has a Singer that was her grandmother’s. My bride has assured me she knows how to use it but never used it in my presence. She would be quick to tell me that “nowhere in our marriage vows did I agree to obey or sew. Loving and honoring were momentous enough.”

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Vintage Singer Sewing Machinehttps://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/283353-vintage-singer-sewing-machine

I have a former student, now friend…a fellow traveler down life’s pathway. She still sews but she is also a throwback to a different time. I guess a throwback to when sewing was a way to while away the hours productively and the quilting group a social meeting opportunity…if you read gossip into that it is your fault. My friend is a producer, a creator…may be a gossiper too.

Twenty-one days…I have time to do a bit of producing although the creative gene may have skipped a generation. I can make a birdhouse if I can find a hollowed-out log or weave a grapevine wreath. I have a gracious plenty of raw material and they tend to make themselves. 

I just won’t be using a Singer Sewing Machine. I have a mental vision of sewing myself into a cocoon.

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Don Miller’s newest book “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2