May Day Ain’t What It Used to be

“Spring (May) is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!'”
― Robin Williams

I was informed of a lengthy list of Spring activities happening this weekend. The weekend that includes Sunday’s May 1st… May Day. Thank you “Your Friend Four”, the local news station and their morning anchor for filling me in.

There was not one mention of a May Day celebration or a May Pole. Where has May Day gone? A victim of the Christian Sunday or Christian persecution due to its pagan roots?

If I Google May Day I get celebrations of workers, branded Anarchist, Communist or Socialist by my right leaning friends. If I Google May Pole, I find images of scantily clad ladies hanging from a stripper pole. I wish I were that limber.

There is much to do around the foothills of the Blue Ridge this weekend, but the closest you get to the “spirit” of May Day is the “euphoria Spring Fest presented by Lexus.” When I clicked on their link, the Spring Fest was more about food than the celebration of Spring. It is also a chance to dance around a new Lexus rather than a May Pole, I guess.

I did find one May Day celebration. May Day Faerie Festival at Marshy Point. All Right!!! Now we’re cookin’ with gas…in Maryland you say? Oops.

There was a time. Girls in ethereal, white dresses and flowers woven in their hair, mocking wood nymphs or Spring witches while dancing around a “May Pole”. A bonfire might have been involved. May Day had a decidedly pagan feel to it with good reason. In a time long ago, I celebrated even though as a child I knew not what we were celebrating.

Charles Amable Lenoir – A Nymph In The Forest

The child in me remembers a May Day celebration held in my school’s gymnasium. I was forced to participate by my fifth-grade teacher or our music teacher. I forget which. I suspect they were in cahoots.

Little boys in their school clothes, too long blue jeans rolled up over sneakers, were matched with female classmates dressed in colorful little girl dresses. We were forced to dance, skipping through an arbor covered in fake vines and around the gym floor. The only upside was I was matched with the fifth-grade love of my life that was never to be. How could it have been? Every time I tried to speak to her, I stuttered. I remember choking back a sick feeling, fearing I might throw up as we touched hands.

Later, I went to a fine Southern institution of higher learning associated with the Lutheran Church. May Day and Lutheranism had Germanic roots so it is inevitable we would celebrate May Day. The area my college was founded in was named the “Dutch Fork”. Dutch was a mispronunciation of German in their own language, “Deutsch”.

German immigrants settled in the area between the Saluda and Broad Rivers of South Carolina in the mid-1700s when incentives were offered to European Protestants to go forth and multiply while growing crops in the fertile river bottoms. Unlike the Pennsylvania Dutch, German culture beyond family names and Lutheran Churches has not survived…including, I guess, May Day.

A delivery of a Mayday basket of flowers to First Lady Grace Cooledge in 1927 – Library of Congress

We had a fine celebration at the college. A concert provided by the college band and jazz ensemble along with the choir. Baskets of spring flowers, treats, a Germanic blond coed named as the May Queen…purely a popularity contest…and she was quite popular. There might have been fruit punch laced with alcohol by one of our less than upstanding young men.

We Southerners do love a good celebration complete with a beauty contest and spiked fruit punch. These were the early Seventies, and it seems now like it might have been medieval times. Of course, we had the mandatory May Pole dance with coeds winding streamers around a tall pole anchored in the center of quad…until our Dean of Women got involved. She deemed our liberal arts education as too liberal as it related to certain fertility rites.

Part of a traditional German May Day Celebration-Erster Mai

There are competing theories about the origins of the May Day celebration. The symbolism of the maypole has been debated by folklorists with no definitive answer arriving. Some scholars classify maypoles as symbols of the world axis, others believe maypoles were erected as trees covered with garland and a sign that the happy season of warmth and comfort had returned. These were celebrated by towns people with substantial amounts of food and drink…and bonfires.

Erecting the May Pole – Double entendre? pinterest.com

The fact that these celebrations were found primarily in areas of Germanic Europe has led to the speculation that the maypoles were in some way a relic of a Germanic pagan tradition. I ascribe to this speculation.

A more recent speculation involves the belief that the May Pole represented a phallic symbol and young ladies dancing around it, a symbol of…well, I’ll let you use your imagination. I raise my red Solo cup filled with spiked punch and toast to a fertile Spring.

Our Dean of Women used her imagination when she learned of this, and it did not bode well for the May Pole dance specifically and the May Day celebration in general. She didn’t much like the annual “panty raid” either.

She was the prudish female who proved the stereotype. An older, unmarried woman, small in stature but who had a look and tongue that could cut you off at your knees. I was never comfortable in her presence at all and hoped I would never run afoul of the acid dripping from her tongue. Her influence was legendary and at her insistence May Day celebrations ended.

Supposedly…and, like the origins of May Day, this is up for debate…her comment to our college President included the statement, “If we are going to have young ladies dance around a pole, young men should dance around a hole in the ground.” Legend or rumor? I do not know.

There is something about a good pagan festival… if the animal sacrificed is a pig, slow cooked over hardwood coals. Good clean fun until it isn’t when the barbarians run off with the women folk. Food, drink, a bonfire. My last bonfire with a group of barbarians was several years ago. We were celebrating life and it was early May. It may well have been pagan.

Instead of young nymphs, older folks used clear, unaged alcohol and herbal remedies to relive those earlier days of our youth. Instead of dancing around a May Pole we moved slowly to Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin with a little Jerry Butler to mellow things out. The only real difference between then and now was we all left the bonfire about the time we once got going full tilt in those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Have a happy first day of May.

Don Miller’s writings may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR363X9GP0lfBwVyIKKbwNaXeetnwVkmkqDyMNODvmLaMOHeqg8KCystRMo

Sittin’ and Whittlin’

“Whittling is not just a hobby it is a life skill” -Unknown

In my youth, late in the evening as the workday had wound down, it was not unusual to see old men sitting in rocking chairs or on benches under the overhang of the Junior’s old mercantile. I was ten or eleven, pumping gas, checking oil, and air pressure for my cousin who owned the store. The pay was minimal, but the life lessons were worth millions.

Some of the men told stories while the group listened…I’m sure their stories were retold and embellished over time. Most participated, waiting their turn, laughter erupting periodically. Some of their discussions revolved around the news of the day. There was plenty to talk about in the late Fifties and early Sixties, little brought laughter. Some days a mason jar with a light amber liquid might have been passed around.

They were ‘workin’ men’, all weather beaten, faces crevassed with age and burned brown from too much time spent in fields. Their eyes had a permanent squint from staring toward the sun. Bib overalls or old-fashioned blue jeans were the fashion statements along with fedoras or baseball caps pushed back exposing their less tanned foreheads. The denim was faded from many washes and was patched on top of patches. Heavy work shirts and brogans completed their attire. They were comfortable in their clothes and with the company they were keeping.

There was one man, Mister Jesse, who sat leaning forward in his rocking chair, elbows resting on his knees. He was more a listener than a talker. A Barlow knife was held in his thickly callused hand. In the other was a thick piece of tree limb. As he listened, he used the knife to peel slivers of wood that made a small pile between his feet.

Mister Jesse was a short squat man, more powerful than fat, although the ravages of time had reduced his muscle mass and gravity had pulled his chest toward his middle. He wore thick glasses and squinted at the stick he was whittlin’ on. I wondered if he worked more by feeling than by sight.

There seemed to be a certain art to his knife strokes. If not art, a method to his madness. The shavings were almost uniform. Thin splinters about an inch long until the bark on the limb was gone, its surface smooth and creamy pale with a hint of green. He would pause periodically and put the knife down and stroke the limb like the arm of a woman, the arm of a special woman.

Once he caught me looking at his knife. The blade polished and curved from use and untold sharpening. When closed, the blade hid inside of a bone handle. It might have been three or four inches long.

Mister Jesse smiled, a gap in his front, lower teeth, “You like my knife, boy?”

I was timid but softly answered, “Yes sir.”

Barlow with a bone handle

“It came from the old country. A genuine Barlow made in Sheffield. My great grandfather carried it across the ocean to Pennsylvania and down through the mountains until they settled here. He passed it down to his son who passed it to his and it was passed down to me. Would like to hold it?”

I nodded, “Yes sir.”

He handed me the knife, handle first, “Careful now, that ain’t no toy. Here take this.” He handed me the limb. The bone handle of the knife was rougher than the stick.

Taking my hand and demonstrating, “Hold it like this and draw the knife away from you. Never cut toward yourself iff’in you can help it.”

I was tentative and stroked the knife away from me, cutting a splinter the size of a sewing needle. The next was wide and too deep. It was harder than it looked.

“That’s right, boy. You’ll get the hang of it. You got a knife?”

“No sir.”

“Well, a boy needs a knife. Junior got some Barlows. They Russell Barlow’s but they still good ones. Save up and get you one.”

I did and I’m sorry to say it was misplaced years ago. It was a working man’s knife. Single bladed with a dark wood handle. A locking clip held it in place when opened and an R with an arrow through it was stamped on the metal that held the blade. A Russell Barlow, still a good one.

The knife that triggered my pig trail wasn’t my knife but my father’s. A small twin bladed knife with a creamy yellow mother of pearl handle. It wasn’t a working man’s knife although my father was a working man. I like to think that it was his “Sunday” knife, more for show than work.

The knife sits in a box on my desk in the study. I don’t carry it because I fear I might lose it. I want to pass it down. I don’t have a son, but my daughter might appreciate it. I don’t think my grandson is old enough to appreciate its history much less be turned loose with a sharp object. In time, I guess.

I need to do a bit of work before I pass it along.

Mr. Jesse passed when I was in college. The art of whittlin’ has passed with him, I think. There is too much going on to just sit and whittle. I’m guessing a lot of thinking passed with it, too. Many of the world’s ills might be solved if we took a moment to sit and think, slivers forming a pile between our feet.

I’m old like them now…well-seasoned. I have squinted into the sun too much and my chest has fallen into my middle. I feel about all I’m useful for is whittling. I need to go buy a good knife. The Barlow Company no longer exists, it was bought out in the mid-2000s, but the name continues as a style of knife. I hear Case makes a good one. Nothing fancy, just a good working man’s knife. So, Mr. Jesse, wherever you are, I reckon I’ll save my pennies and get one. I still have time to become a good whittler.

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR04JmryGiZ4dKmFNiUXijmwZNfx1a7sd1DFHEVnI7HC8qB1jIT7BisYfqs

His newest release is the non-fiction “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes”, more musings of a mad Southerner. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09GNZFXFT/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1

Smells Like Chicken

“But my heart’s running ’round like a chicken with its head cut off

All around the barnyard, falling in and out of love

The poor thing’s blind as a bat, getting up, falling down, getting up

Who’d fall in love with a chicken with its head cut off?”

“A Chicken with its Head Cut Off” by the Magnetic Fields

I’m prone to follow my thoughts as they fall into a rabbit hole, diving in to see what is at the bottom. I’m not sure this was a rabbit hole. It was more a black, iron kettle sitting on a fire, water rolling, and steam rising. At some point, I realized I smelled like chicken.

I was lying face-down on an operating table while my dermatologist removed the latest squamous cell carcinomas from my calf. This was the third or fourth in that location which joined the two on my ear, and a couple on the thigh of my opposite leg. That has nothing to do with the story exactly, but I wish I had kept up with my total number of stitches during my lifetime. Seems like I’m always cutting something or getting cut upon.

The calf had been numbed and the doctor’s touch was light. A little pressure he said, no pain. It couldn’t have been much pressure and there was no pain. I was just at the point of falling asleep when he began to cauterize the bleeders. It was the smell of my own toasting flesh and singed leg hair that brought me back and took me back to my childhood.

Back to a boiling black cauldron of water and the poor chicken that was about to give her all so I could eat a chicken leg for supper.

Periodically my grandmother, Nannie as we all called her, would begin a fire outside, under a big, black, iron caldron. As the water heated, she would pick up her ax and head to the chicken coop. Gothic chicken horror music should be playing in your head. A less than productive egg producer was about to die.

We were meat eaters, and the death of farm animals was a common occurrence. It wasn’t kept a secret from the children. There were no worries about our delicate sensibilities. We knew how the meat, fish, or poultry ended up on our plates. We had been warned about naming our animals, but I still found it sad when Bacon, Sausage or Henny Penny went to meet their maker. Sad until those pork chops or chicken legs hit the frying pan.

 I would follow my grandmother to the coop realizing a macabre sight was about to unfold.  I didn’t find joy in the occurrence, but I knew there was something odd about chickens with their heads cut off running about willy nilly before finally flopping over. I remember when I first studied the French Revolution. I truly wondered if King Louie XVI or his wife, Marie Antoinette, ran around like a chicken after their beheading. Truth, I kid you not. I was just a stupid kid.

After the beheading, Nannie would take the chicken and dip it in heated water for five or ten seconds and begin to pull feathers. If they were too hard to pluck, she would continue to dip the chicken into the water until she had supper plucked. Then she would dry the chicken and with a burning piece of wood, singe the pin feathers off before gutting and butchering. That was the smell triggering my memory.

The memory came when the smell of my own burning skin and hair hit me. The memory was as if I was there, sixty years ago. Not pleasing…smell or memory. The memory of frying chicken battered and turning brown in Crisco is a much better memory. I can smell it now and a Johnny Cash tune is running in my head. Or it might have been Kris Kristofferson.

“Then I crossed the empty street

And caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken

And it took me back to somethin’

That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way”

I haven’t lost the memory of a chicken leg, crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. The memory is quite pleasing. Colonel Harland Sanders, eat your heart out. She did more with chicken coated with flour, salt, and pepper and shallow fried in Crisco than any of your secret recipes.

From the Johnny Cash Christmas Show, 1978

***

Postscript: Except for the smell, everything went well. I got to add twelve stitches to my total and am recovering with just a bit of discomfort.

Don Miller writes in multiple genres, both fact and fiction, and combinations of both. His latest is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” which may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=TKS6SAC9M2I9&keywords=Pig+Trails+and+Rabbit+holes&qid=1647603975&s=books&sprefix=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes%2Cstripbooks%2C2247&sr=1-1

Spinnin’ Plates…?

“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.
― Orson Scott Card, Alvin Journeyman

I have a memory of speeding us home from MYF to claim my front row seat. The seat was in our living room, in front of a black and white RCA TV. Ed Sullivan was coming on and could not be missed. Every Sunday evening at eight we expected, “A really big shew!” The night of my remembrance was The Beatles, but I remember many other acts with dimming clarity. Some more than others and some that have become metaphors in my dimming brain.

Ed Sullivan

My memory was triggered by another memory, which was triggered by a conversation. A simple comment I made about the complexities of life. A comparison to an incomplete story, incomplete because the story had too many moving parts. Too many spinning plates wobbling as I try to bring my story to its conclusion.

From the conversation a rabbit hole opened, beckoning me to fall in and I obliged it. Slide on over Alice, I’ve come to join you. Set a place for me at your tea party preferably next to the Mad Hatter. We have much in common, especially our insanity.

The memory of Ed Sullivan led me to the memory of a tuxedo clad man with a bad haircut running hither and yon attempting to keep bowls spinning on dowls and plates spinning on the table the dowls sat on. As their spin began to slow, the plates or bowls would begin to wobble. The tuxedo clad man would run first to one and then to another while carrying a tray with glasses, eggs, and cutlery that he would perform ‘amazing’ tricks with while keeping the bowls from crashing to the floor.

The tuxedo clad man was Erich Brenn. His act was pure circus, but it reminded me of the circus that life has become for so many. Spinning plates have become a metaphor for life.

I’m retired. Life doesn’t get much simpler. Life is so simple my biggest struggle is to remember what day of the week it is or what time of day it might be. As simple as it is, I still remember and long for simpler times. What about those who now find themselves spinning plates in the Twenty-First Century?

Both my parents worked in the Twentieth Century. Shift work in a cotton mill weave room. Sometimes my dad would ‘work over’. An extra four hours here and there. Even working over he was always home in time for supper, the evening meal in the South. They owned their home, made payments on a new car every four or five years, and there was always food on the table. I never wanted for anything that was needed. Admittedly there were disagreements over what was ‘needed’.

They had time to have a life outside of the heat, humidity, and lint of a weave room. The job ended with the closing of the huge, sliding doors that separated ‘in there’ from the ‘out there’. They didn’t carry the job home with them…at least in their heads. They might have been bone weary, but they weren’t mind numbed. They didn’t have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. They had money to put away for a ‘rainy’ day.

They had time, an irreplaceable commodity, to smell the roses. Time to do chores, work a crossword puzzle, paint by numbers, go to choir practice, or host the Canasta Club or just watch TV. Time to be parents. Time to do nothing if they wanted. What happened?

The modern world happened. Life morphed into something that would not be recognized in the Fifties, Sixties, or Seventies. Life has reverted to the early days of the Industrial Revolution…to the Great Depression, long hours as pay hasn’t kept up with cost. The Greatest Generation should be shaking their heads in disbelief. Life now resembles Erich Brenn’s spinning plate novelty act.

Today, many families of four can’t survive on one salary, are stretched to survive on two, can’t own a home, are forced to keep a ten-year-old vehicle running for five more years. In many cases, they are working multiple jobs and still making decisions on which bills to pay, which meds to take, living from paycheck to paycheck, one calamity away from being thrown to the curb. One disaster from living in their car or a cardboard box. Spinning plates.

This was before Covid, before runaway inflation, before soaring gas prices, before more rumors of war in the Ukraine turned out not to be rumors. Life is hard for this newest generation and looks worse for the next. Forget saving for a better life, saving for a house or college for their kids. It’s hard to save when catsup soup is the soup de jure.

I wonder how many more plates are being spun…or shattering as they fall to the floor.

I worry about my daughter, son-in-law, and grandbabies. They are lucky and I hope they realize it. I’m sure some days they wonder too. I’m sure they must make tough decisions. They both work, have good jobs, and both are home for supper. Sometimes my electrician son-in-law works side jobs but most days he’s doing taxi service to one practice or another. They sound much like my parents.

They are great parents. They amaze me. They put their children first…sometimes to their own detriment. I worry they are wearing themselves out sprinting in the rat race of life. No chance to slow down and smell the roses. Spinning those plates. They can call on family members when the schedule spins out of control, or when life adds a plate to the table. So far, no plates or bowls have come crashing down. Still, I worry.

Many young parents don’t have the support to soften the blow of falling bowls and I am sorrowful. Many grandparents who were once the support system still must work, still spinning plates themselves.

Spinning plates shouldn’t be a metaphor for life…yet it is. It is a metaphor for the fear many experience. One broken plate from going bust.

My parents had a dream their ‘baby boys’ would have a better life than they did. A better life was the same dream their parents had and a dream I had for mine. For some that dream was realized. For others, the deck was stacked against them from the beginning and has become dog-eared over time.

We keep being told that the American Dream is still alive. All you must do is work hard. I think that is a lie and for the coming generations that dream may be a nightmare.

***

As madly as we spin plates, I can’t help but point out that at least I’m not having to manufacture and use Molatov cocktails, and my grandchildren are not having their blood type sewn onto their clothing by their parents. I’m not living in a makeshift bomb shelter with a pet in my lap. To my Ukrainian friends, known and unknown, Любов і удача. Love and good luck.

Image is from https://wordwranglers.blogspot.com/2016/02/spinning-plates-and-shiny-objects.html

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR03_CNDnl9zP1PUcuPq3gRcw2MxMBnxKv6-Xb07S_k4BEx3dP81Yk912HY

Don Miller’s newest offering is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes”

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.

See the source image
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.”

See the source image
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.

***

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

A Giant Among Us

Louie Golden no longer walks among us but his memory continues to cast bright sunlight over thousands of former players, peers, friends, and his family. I’m sure it continues to shine over people who never actually knew him.

Louie Golden was both jovial and ferocious.  A paradox at times. A mentor and an advocate for his players and his students. He was a defender of what he thought was right…even though I might have disagreed with him a time or two. Louie had the ability to let adversity and disagreement roll off his back although I’m sure he was bothered and, in some cases, cut to the quick.

When I wrote “Winning Was Never the Only Thing….” I dedicated a chapter to Louie…a chapter? The man deserved more than just a chapter. I owe him much although at the time I was too immature, or ego driven to realize it.

If you coached under Coach Golden you had a love-hate relationship. There were always currents at work.  Some were like gentle flatland streams, others like riptides from a hurricane kicking up just off the coast.  You either got a huge grin or a look that curdled milk. If it was about “monies”, it was the latter.

I was no longer a green behind the ears coach when I went to work at Riverside High School. I had been teaching and coaching for twenty years. I had been an athletic director in my own right. I was wise to the athletic world and knew it all, but I was never wise to Louie Golden. There was truly a right way, a wrong way, and Louie’s way. He was sly…sly like a fox with a big grin and an even bigger laugh.

Louie liked to give you the idea he wasn’t too bright, that you might be able to get something over on him. It was a ploy. I can’t remember a time when I was successful getting anything over on him. That speaks more to his abilities than my inadequacies.

He was never far from the young man who grew up hard in St. Matthews. Growing up dirt poor he survived by his wits and hard work, and it translated into how he did his job. As I realize now, it was a tough job, starting a program from scratch.

I was fortunate to sit down with him and listen to his stories about growing up poor, his time at Beck before integration. Being given the job at brand new Riverside with no “monies”, selling his soul to beg, borrow and steal the equipment needed. He believed he had been given the job to fail as the first person of color to be an athletic director in Greenville County. Someone miscalculated.

I knew Louie’s reputation, both as a successful basketball coach and as an athletic director who lorded over athletic assets if they were clasped in the jaws of a sprung bear trap. His reputation was not exaggerated. He was tight with a dollar…or a penny.

I found he could get you to do things you ordinarily would not think about doing. He had a certain charm about him and was quite artful when it came to arm twisting. Sell your soul to the devil? There wasn’t much left when Louie got through.

My bride, the Coach Linda Porter-Miller coached with Coach Golden longer than I did. I was in attendance when he talked her into coaching his tennis and JV basketball teams. We weren’t dating at the time; I was coaching at another high school and the conversation took place on top of a high school football press box. In some ways Louie might have played a bit of Cupid. She denies this but my memory is like Louie’s bear trap. She also held an exalted position for Louie, a position the rest of us mere mortals could only wish for.

The stories I could tell, but I won’t. As I look back, Louie was like a father who presided over a hugely dysfunctional family. We were all like bratty children waiting for an inheritance but somehow, he navigated around our egos and kept the athletic bus pointed in the right direction…if it happened to be running.

I never realized he was the glue that held everything together until after he was gone…and many of us with him. Louie was treated with less respect than he deserved, and athletics in general took a step back…but Louie didn’t. He went on to another school and won a couple of more state championships. More importantly, he was able to mentor another generation of kids and coaches.

I knew Louie was ill, but I thought he would rally one more time. Truth be known, I thought he might live forever. His memory will live on in the hearts of his family, his former players, his students, his coaching peers, and his opponents.

Many of the old guard from the Seventies and Eighties have transitioned to their just rewards. I have a mental image of old coaches sitting on even older gymnasium bleachers with Louie pontificating. I hope when it is my time, they give me a seat in the gym.

Rest in peace Louie.

Louie Golden’s at a glance: 699 victories, six state championships at three different schools, twelve upper state championships. Over an eight-year period, Louie played in the State finals, seven times. Thousands of players, students, and coaches touched.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1zKfonhGNMrFp6OnO7_V5FmXgPR4ZPxyw9luWE-FOptgCCusleBa6euSQ

Image from WSPA News

The Persimmon Tree That Ate Superman

In those thrilling days of yesteryear, before twenty-four-hour cartoon channels, Disney apps, Nickelodeon, YouTube, and such, there were Saturday mornings.  Every Saturday was like Christmas except better.  Well, maybe not better, but Christmas only came once a year. Saturdays came once a week. 

For a child, it was the best morning of the week.  Sitting in front of our black and white TV with a plate full of Dad’s pancakes watching the good guys beat the bad guys without anyone drawing blood until the Saturday afternoon movie reruns took over or Dizzy Dean, singing “The Wabash Cannonball” with his little pardner Pee Wee Reese doing the color commentary, brought us the Major League Game of the Week sponsored by Falstaff beer.

From the time the local TV station’s test pattern was replaced by a US Flag with forty-eight stars and the National Anthem played, Saturday mornings in the Fifties and Sixties were dedicated to children’s programming.  Looney Tunes,  Merry Melodies, Tom and Jerry, Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bill, Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans, even a Japanese Sci-Fi cartoon about a battleship turned into a spaceship, Star Blazers…wait.  That was in the Seventies.  I guess I never outgrew cartoons.

I liked the cartoons.  I did.  But there was something about the syndicated serials that ran along with them. “A Fiery Horse With the Speed of Light, a Cloud of Dust and a Hearty Heigh-Yo Silver! THE LONE RANGER!” Let’s not forget his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, or other oaters like Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and The Cisco Kid, “Hey Cisco, Hey Pancho”.  There was even a modern cowboy, “From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King”, flying in his faithful steed, The Songbird. Modern for the Fifties. Finally, Captain Midnight, pilot of the Silver Dart and leader of the Secret Squadron, spoiled saboteurs while hawking Ovaltine and secret decoder rings.

I watched them all but my absolute favorite was something else entirely.  George Reeve was the man of steel, and he didn’t need a horse or an airplane.  He could fly!

“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”

Intro to the Adventures of Superman. YouTube

.38 caliber bullets bounced off his chest like popcorn and he twisted the pistol they came from into a pretzel, crushed coal into diamonds, used his X-ray vision to see through walls or burn up asteroids, and he could fly.  He was my guy! 

Oh, Noli, my grandson, I remember the four-year-old you in your Spiderman costume.  You had all the Spider moves down pat.  Me?  I was limited to a red union suit with one of Mom’s towels safety-pinned to my shoulders. The things you did to fight “a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

I did have a small closet to use as a pretend telephone booth and twin beds to “fly” between. Clark Kent might have a problem in these modern times since there are no telephone booths to make quick changes in.  Bummer.

Too many times I heard, “Son! Quit jumpin’ on that bed before you break it down!”  I was reduced to running through the house pretending to fly. I got yelled at about running in the house and finally took the game outside.  “Quit slammin’ that screen door, boy!”

Reduced to running until the fateful day I walked into the  Woolworth Five and Dime and saw the Transogram Superman Flying Toy.  For less than a dollar, I could watch Plastic Superman fly, soar, bank, loop, glide, or dive.  It said so, right on the package.  I imagined the flash of red and blue sailing through the air.

The Superman Flying Toy was a plastic glider powered by a slingshot affair that would tear your arm up if you weren’t careful despite the package assurances, “Safe for children of all ages.” Right!  It taught lessons, painful lessons I’ll say.  He was also a blond-headed Superman that looked nothing like TV Superman.

I had to beg for a three-week advance of my allowance, but I walked out with the last package and into hours of fun with Superman…until that damnable tree intervened.

A huge persimmon tree sat, majestically…no…ominously, to the left of my grandparent’s home.  It was a pain when the fruit began to fall.  A pain for me, not the possums that reaped the tree’s bounty. How many times did I come in with rotting persimmon pulp oozing from between my toes?  Persimmon pulp mixed with dirt, resembling puppy poop one might have stepped in.  At least it didn’t have the same aromatic properties and the possums partaking of the fruit seemed to like it.

The bottom limbs had been lopped off to allow the blue Rocket 88 my grandfather drove to park under it.  Without lower limbs, it was impossible to climb unlike the pecan tree on the other side of my grands’ front porch.  It also created persimmon Kryptonite for my Superman glider.

At some point in time, I found it necessary to replace the long and thick rubber bands that powered Superman and set about to do so when the thought occurred, “What if you double the bands?”  Twice as much umph, twice as much distance or flight time thought I. That thing would fly a country mile, especially if launched with the wind.  Against the wind?  It climbed higher and higher…circling and circling, right into the clutches of the persimmon tree from one of Krypton’s mountain tops.

An updraft took Superman to the top of that tree.  I prayed to the “gods of Krypton” he would clear but he didn’t.  “Charlie Brown, I feel your pain.”  I wonder if he could have told me how to get Superman out of the tree. Ole Charlie seemed to have a lot of experience with kite-eating trees.

I threw rocks, even the Chinese oranges from the bush with the sharp thorns that tore at my clothes, sometimes my arms.  I ran out after windy thunderstorms with hope in my heart only to have my hope squished flat. Mostly I just stood and shook my head in anger and despair. My parents didn’t seem inclined to call out the volunteer fire department to help. “Son, file this under lesson’s learned.”

I never got Superman down.  He spent years as a lonely sentinel in the top of a persimmon tree until I finally outgrew him and he disintegrated due to loneliness.  Rubber band airplanes, bicycles, my Combat Thompson machine gun, my genuine Rifleman Winchester air rifle, and such replaced him much in the same way Jackie Paper replaced Puff the Magic Dragon.  Later girls would entice me to buy more expensive toys.

Funny, I don’t remember many of those girls, but I remember Superman and the persimmon tree that ate him.  I remember the best day of the week and the childhood memories it sparked. 

Don Miller’s author’s page maybe found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0pjd3sx2XSojL9YQGsygAqHaAp6MfY7pm_ywvteFSDLLII20gZN7hbk6A

Image from https://www.artstation.com/artwork/380LY

A Last Conversation

I remember the last conversation I had with my Father in the mid Nineteen Nineties.  I was sick with pneumonia and racked with a cough that shook me to the bottoms of my feet and chills the heavy quilts couldn’t quite shake. My head buzzed from codeine, antibiotics, and aspirin my doctor had prescribed.  I was feverish and out of my head.  Finally, I slept.

My father sat quietly on the corner of my bed watching me.  He was a small man; five foot six inches and his feet didn’t quite touch the floor.  He crossed his legs and clasped his hands on his knees. Nodding his head, he seemed younger than the last time I had seen him in the mid-Seventies.

“Son, you do know sickness is God’s way of telling you to slow down.  Death means you should have listened.” 

He said “Son” in the voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  “Son” was usually followed by gothic organ music and the statement, “This is going to hurt me more than you.” 

Right Dad, I don’t believe you now, and I didn’t believe you then.”

We talked for a while. I caught him up on the twenty years since his passing and even made him laugh a couple of times, something I don’t remember doing too much of when he was alive. 

We reminisced telling stories, mostly focusing on the times I screwed up, maybe times when I disappointed him. Running into him with a quill buggy while he worked under a loom causing him to sit up and bark his forehead on a worm gear. A lot of blood and a look that could have curdled milk.  The looms were too loud for me to hear the names he called me.

“The first time I heard you curse was when I pulled the starter cord on the mower when you were holding the spark plug wire.”  That was a real knee slapper.  He nodded and smiled. 

I remembered a note he left me one morning before going to work.  I was eleven or twelve.  “It has been three days.  Either use the mower or get it out of the front yard.”  Crazy things you remember.

“You weren’t a screamer, but you could give the talk…you know the talk.”  The “Please just hit me and end this” talk.  “You had a long fuse but there was a line I didn’t step across.”

I remembered striking out with the bat on my shoulder during a baseball game to end an inning and tossing my bat in anger.  Bad move, but a learning experience.  You called me over to the chicken wire backstop and punched a finger into my chest.

“The bat didn’t strike out, you did.  If I ever see you throw a bat, I’ll jerk you off this field and jerk a knot in your butt in front of everyone.” I believed him and told every one of my own baseball teams the story before adding, “And, I’ll do the same.”

I was able to say all the things I wanted to say but didn’t when I had the chance.  I got to tell him I loved him, how I appreciated all the sacrifices he made for our family.  I thanked him for how he treated my mother during her sickness.  I forgave him for marrying the stepmother from Hades…more on my brother’s behalf than mine. He laughed and nodded his head.

I awoke from my dream and looked for him.  He had gone wherever ghosts from codeine-fueled dreams go.  I felt a greater loss from a dream than I felt when he died twenty years before. 

I like to think that if there is an afterlife, somehow the dream was real…the conversation real…his ghost real. I can’t remember my last real conversation with him, but the dream was as real as it gets.  The dream somehow gave me a bit of closure, more than I got in 1976.

Many times, I only remember small snatches of my father, and other times I say something that came right out of his mouth. I see him sitting in his rocking chair, reading glasses down on his nose as he worked the crossword.  He was usually a calming factor, slow to react, a man of few words but words with weight.  I wish I saw more of him in me.

For more of Don Miller, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3-8bMeUK9KNiS9JIFsT1PJHnKDdWomHwXGcfvTatfiESPeifFFSaM1GkA