Thanksgiving Blessings? It Could Be Worse.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”-Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

It is easy to be depressed on Thanksgiving, 2022…or lately any Thanksgiving this decade. Then I think about my Native American brethren and realize that it has been a rough two and a half centuries for them. I don’t know who thought celebrating Native American Heritage Month in the same month as the Native American National Day of Mourning, aka Thanksgiving, was a great idea. Regardless, President Bush signed it into law in 1990.

While I identify with my Native American blood brothers, there are reasons to celebrate and be thankful.

I’m thankful that a (cisgender) veteran attended Club Q in Colorado Springs. They were celebrating Transgender Remembrance Day, a day to remember those lost to violence against or suicide. With the help of a Drag Queen in high heels, they were able to limit the death and destruction that claimed five lives, taking down a shooter armed with a “long gun” and pistol.  I am also thankful for the darkly humorous image of a Drag Queen dressed in his/her finery dancing on the murderer’s head in stiletto heels. Too soon? There is a reason they are called “stiletto” heels.

I’m also thankful that the veteran and his family were at a Queer venue celebrating people who have, for a too long, been considered the others by others who don’t believe people outside of the “box” deserve such basic rights as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I’m sorry they lost their daughter’s boyfriend to the carnage. I’m also sorry that the best we can offer to the families and friends of those lost in the previous seven hundred or so mass shootings this year is thoughts and prayers.

I would like to be thankful for the absence of hatred in the world but instead will celebrate an Iranian men’s soccer team who stood in mute solidarity protesting the treatment of Iranian women at home as their national anthem played at the World Cup and the English team who knelt during theirs supporting social justice for all. The American team did nothing but tie with Wales. Sorry American right-wingers, nothing for you to ridicule and celebrate against. I’m thankful for that too.

These are going to sound like a litany of “hurray for me and the hell with everyone else” and they might be.

I’m thankful that despite inflation numbers and high gas and food prices, I’m doing okay. I have money in the bank and a retirement. I’m thankful inflation will correct itself, eventually. I am thankful that despite gas prices, I will make the road trip to my family’s gathering instead of being sequestered during a pandemic. I’m also unhappy that because of the road trip I will not have the opportunity to sample any brown liquor.

I’m thankful I haven’t lost any family members or friends recently to the pandemic and pray that the building “triple threat” burns itself out quickly.

I’m thankful that I recently came through my yearly bank of physicals and am in “fine fiddle “although with Afib, the fiddle might be a bit out of tune. There are many my age who are not as healthy. I’m thankful I look so much younger than those my age. LOL.

I’m thankful I am sitting in an airish old farmhouse with heat and electricity and a running refrigerator with food in it. I could gripe about the price of electricity, but I could also be sitting in a cold and dark Ukrainian flat as missiles and artillery shells rain down.

I’m thankful I’m not on a dusty South American road trekking to gain asylum in a country that doesn’t seem to want me despite the quote on the Statue of Liberty,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
― Emma Lazarus

I’m thankful for a family to visit over Thanksgiving and celebrate memories of family members no longer with us. So many folks had less than the childhood I lived. I was truly blessed.

I’m thankful for and proud of my immediate family.

My rock Linda Gail, I can’t contemplate a world without you. The fact we found each other makes me believe there actually is a God.

Ashley and Justin. I am proud of the people you are and the parents you are. I still think you’ve too many irons in the fire. You are wonderful, rocks in your own right.

Kate and Nolan, you are both heart breakers. I’m so proud of your confidence and fearlessness…some of your fearlessness causes my heart to stop but if you survive, it will serve you well.

Steve and Rebecca, I’m proud to call you brother and sister-in-law. I live much of my life vicariously through you…so you went to Folly Beach, did you? I just committed the sin of envy.

Joyce, I’m thankful you treated me much like the son you never had, and for keeping me tied to home, and with it, my mother, and my grandmother.

Kim, Lynn, and Terri, thanks for being the sisters I never had and like your mother, tying me to my home that once existed along a dusty dirt road.

Bob, thanks for being Lynn’s rock, I know it is a challenge.

Lawrence and Stephanie, I’m thankful you have the family you always wanted and am proud to call you kin.

Hawk, I consider you family. Thanks for being there buddy, and thanks for your perspective on the world and God…I don’t necessarily agree but perspectives are like M&M’s, assorted colors, and flavors.

Lynn C, thanks for letting me bounce ideas off your head and your support. Glad we reconnected after such a long time.

I am quite blessed it seems…and I almost forgot. Quigley and Cora, thanks for your unconditional love and the puppy kisses I receive despite knowing where your tongues have been.

To all my friends, known and unknown, especially those of you who take time to read these, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. To my family, Happy Thanksgiving.

***

Postscript

This was written before the murder of six people at a Walmart in Virginia and the suicide of their murderer. Seven-gun deaths means it is jusanother day in America and I refuse to send empty thoughts and prayers.

***

Don Miller’s most recent releases is the historical fiction “Thunder Along the Copperhead” and the nonfiction “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes.” Both may be purchased in paperback or downloaded on Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0LGf5HUb84nQnPB-sFQF7KaqSOW6sGsSSu1_ltf1FuWh1Wj2nSIad1uYQ

Memorial to My Sense of Humor

“I have a knack for finding humor in all sorts of things, no matter how grim. My sense of humor is wry and a bit on the warped side. (Well, more than a bit, depending on whom you ask.)” ― Gerri R. Gray

Once I had a sense of humor…mostly teenage kind of humor, bathroom, potty mouthed, laugh at farts kind of humor. “Here, pull on my finger.” I would like to think I have evolved but I still get a good laugh when someone slips on a banana peel…I make sure they aren’t hurt first. I have evolved.

I found humor in the grim. You know, hiding my fear and pain behind a suspect joke at the expense of a dearly departed friend or family member. From my home state’s Department of Social Services, Greenville, South Carolina: Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 2013 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.

My problem is I’ve become too fearful or the grim has become too grim and I believe I’m not in a small boat in my thinking.

American politics were once a perfect target for humor. During the worst times, even our politicians could poke fun at each other. Their constituents could still laugh at them or themselves. Now any joke is taken as a challenge to a duel.

I’ve become too politically correct. No, I’ve always been too politically correct. I’ve never wanted to hurt someone’s feelings just for the sake of hurting someone’s feelings but “roasting” someone was always fair game. Now there is a movement that uses political correctness to become incensed over every little thing and another movement that uses its distain for political correctness to bully.

Americans have lost their sense of humor. I miss George Carlin’s, Dick Gregory’s, Lenny Bruce’s, and Richard Pryor’s sharp and irreverent wit poking fun at society and government in the Sixties and Seventies. We need Laugh-in’s “Laugh-in Looks at the News” or “The Wonderful World of Whoopee Award” or the political satire and irreverence of the Smothers Brothers. I miss Johnny Carson wise cracking, “There is a power struggle going on between President Reagan’s advisers. Moe and Curly are out. Larry is still in.” Somehow it was funnier when he said it, cha ching.

According to Mark Twain…or maybe Steve Allen, “Humor is tragedy plus time.” I don’t guess we have had enough time to find the humor of today’s tragic political environment. I fear in today’s environment, Mark or Steve would be cancelled the way CBS smothered the Smothers Brothers.

Now we have Laura Ingram, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson…what do you mean? They aren’t comedians?

Even our politicians were funny…I’m not talking about their lawmaking abilities; some of those are quite hilarious. Some were funny not meaning to be, like Gerald Ford slipping and falling and Chevy Chase making a career spoofing it.

I swear I didn’t laugh until I knew he was okay.

I’m talking about the ability to turn a phrase or humorously bash their opponent. The comedic looking Winston Churchill for instance, speaking of politics in general, “Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

My favorite humorous Churchill quotes involved Nancy Astor, Lady Astor, an American who married an English nobleman and had been elected to Parliament. They didn’t like each other very much and were always good for a humorous quip.

Lady Astor: “Mr. Churchill, you’re drunk!”

Winston Churchill: “Yes, and you, Madam, are ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober.”

I’m not sure that one would fly in today’s political environment. Still, it is funny.

Another and then I shall move on

Lady Astor: “Winston, if I were your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.”

Winston Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

Politicians from another age knew how to think and realized well thought out words carried more weight than stupidly bludgeoning opponents. Simple barbs yet thoughtful that were more intelligent than name calling or disparaging someone’s wife.

Some favored quips

Bob Dole on Carter, Ford, and Nixon: “History buffs probably noted the reunion at a Washington party a few weeks ago of three ex-presidents: Carter, Ford, and Nixon — See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Evil.”

Pat Buchanan on Bill Clinton: “Bill Clinton’s foreign policy experience is pretty much confined to having had breakfast once at the International House of Pancakes.”

Senator William E. Jenner on New York Governor W. Averell Harriman: “He’s thin, boys. He’s thin as piss on a hot rock.”

Texas Governor Ann Richards on George W. Bush: “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

Politicians were more creative…. about many things.

Maybe it is just me. I guess I should cremate my sense of humor and put the ashes in a pretty urn. I’ve let mass shootings, politics, the impending doom of Climate Change, inflation, etcetera suck the humor out of my humor. If it is a humor vampire, I’ll hang a bobble head of George Carlin around my neck instead of a cross to keep it away.

The truth is, we have lost the ability to poke fun at ourselves and the only humor we find funny must be directed toward what we perceive to be the opposition.

Don Miller’s latest offering is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0yXYm7o67oNCZe580f0IHGFtOAndQ4-x_K4txNuTEUZlTfZIvoD-apLtU

My Body is not a Temple

“Middle age is when a narrow waist and a broad mind begin to change places.” – Anonymous

At best I’ve never had a narrow waist and my mind may be broader than it has ever been. Middle Age? I passed that landmark a while ago.

My body was never a temple, more like an old barn, some of its weathered cladding falling off, the tin roof turning reddish brown with rust, and one door sagging on its hinges like a drunken sailor on liberty. If I could see inside, broken down stalls would be filled with old, dried-up horse apples and cow patties. Let’s face it, middle age is in my rear-view mirror along with a steadily approaching figure known as the grim reaper.

With the approaching fall, the dreaded “physical” season is upon me. It began midweek with a full body “search” for nasty squamous cells, basil cells, or any other carcinoma that might be found. As I looked into a strategically placed mirror, I saw an alien old man who’s pale and scrawny shoulders and chest had fallen into his waist and his waist into his ass. My only six pack is cooling in the fridge. Not a pear shape exactly, more of a triangle. Note to self, stay out of eyeshot of mirrors, it is easier to lie to yourself that way and not as depressing.

The scan went well considering. I stood in my underwear in front of my extremely attractive and pregnant dermatologist and her attractive nonpregnant nurse. I didn’t know I could suck in my stomach for that long. Oh, the vanity of it all and they are young enough to be granddaughters.

One suspicious area was biopsied and three pre-cancers burned off, one squarely in the middle of my forehead.  Cue the “Did you forget to duck” comments.

Early next month I have my general physical with all its bloodwork and a week later a physical with my cardiologist with the sticky and ice-cold patches reading electrical impulses for the EKG. It is a known fact they store them in a freezer. I don’t expect any unwelcome news, but they do trigger reflection.  The physicals will all confirm what I already know, I’m old…but I’m still alive.

Two quotes about aging by baseball great, Satchel Paige are stuck in my head. Born in 1906, Paige pitched his last professional game in 1966, just weeks before his sixtieth birthday. Due to the Major League’s color barrier, he pitched for over twenty years combining time with the Negro Leagues, barnstorming and semi-pro ball before getting an opportunity to pitch in the Majors for the Cleveland Indians. Owner Bill Veeck knew a draw when he saw one and knew Paige would put people in seats.

Paige was forty-two and two days old when he threw his first pitch, still the oldest rookie to debut. When reporters asked about his age, Paige replied, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” Sage words. Time is a human construct used to torture us with thoughts of our own pending mortality.

A 42-year-old rookie warms up for the then Cleveland Indians

In the two and a half months left in the 1948 season, Paige finished with a 6–1 record and a 2.48 ERA, pitched two, nine inning shutouts, struck out forty-three against twenty-two walks and gave up sixty-one base hits in 72 and 2⁄3 innings. And Cleveland? They won the World Series in six games; the last time Cleveland won a World Series. Not bad for a rookie of any age.

The second notable Paige quote rattling in the empty drum that is my mind, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” I know the grim reaper is drawing closer, but I rather not know when he will place his bony hand upon my shoulder. No need to dwell on the inevitable. I hope I wake up dead one morning with a surprised look on my face.

Three additional quotes from Satchel Paige:

“You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.” (Metaphor for life)

“I ain’t ever had a job, I just always played baseball.” (When you enjoy what you do it is hard to call it work)

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” (Don’t just pray when things are bad.)

Don Miller’s authors page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Of Cockleburs, Beggar’s Lice, and Orb Weavers

“Sometimes it looks like I’m dancing, but it’s just that I walked into a spider web.” ~ Demetri Martin

The thermometer and calendar lie. Are we at the end of summer or the beginning of fall? Labor Day is in our rear view, but it is still early September and hot and humid. There is a hint of fall in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and a whisper of what will come in the morning breeze. There are harbingers that say Autumn is just around the next leaf strewn curve.

I thought of the harbingers as I picked Beggar’s Lice off Quigley. Little triangular seed pods that lie in wait in the late summer or early fall for some unsuspecting souls, as in Quigley and his favorite humans, to walk by. They are sticky, adhering to a puppy’s fir or a human’s shoelaces and socks. It is how the plants migrate, being carried from hither to yon by some accommodating animal.

Beggar Lice

They are harbingers, not as ooh or aah worthy as say, a vee of geese flying south for the winter or the Blue Heron that stops off at the lake for a bit of R and R before heading to swamps and shorelines to our south. But they are harbingers just the same.

Picking the Beggar’s lice off my shoestrings and Quigley’s coat, I thought of earlier Autumns in and around the cornfields of my childhood home. Picking and shucking dried ears of corn. The kernels removed from the cob would be ground into corn meal and grits, the cobs ground into hog feed. Nothing wasted.

Quigley the Australian Tri-Paw

In and around the fields were other plants, cockleburs, we called them. Usually, cocklebur was preceded by descriptive adjectives that had I been overheard using would lead to a “whoopin’” or a mouth filled with soap. Mostly I just sinned in my mind as I pricked my fingers.

Inch long, spiny seed pods that didn’t just stick to clothing or fur but grabbed ‘aholt’ and held on for dear life. Spiny enough to pierce bare skin, they were almost impossible to safely remove from boot laces and socks and why we wore denim in those fields. Painful harbingers of fall.

Cocklebur waiting to “git cha”

As Quigley, my bride, and I made our way around Lake Lookup I noted purple and yellow fall wildflowers, purple American beauty berry, fallen acorns and hickory nuts, and the scarlet Cardinal plant that grows in the marsh. I should have paid better attention, walking into the first spiderweb of the day.

This is the time that yellow and black writing spiders and orb weavers build their webs and I had just destroyed an orb weaver’s hard work. Quigley watched stupefied as I danced away attempting to remove the silky web…only to walk into another.

I had the uncomfortable thought that I was going to end up like David Hedison in the 1958 movie, The Fly, trapped in a web screaming “Help me, help me!” as a spider advanced toward me. I also wished Quigley were a bit taller or that my bride might walk ahead of me.

I don’t have a fear of spiders but spider webs across the face are an uncomfortable feeling and I walked into a dozen before my hike was over. The good news is they will be reconstructed before I begin my next walk. Good for the spider, not good for me.

Orb Weaver and Web

My figs have ripened and been picked as have the muscadines. The smell of them cooking down for jellies and jams fills the kitchen with a delightful aroma. Did I mention the black walnuts are falling like bombs?

Soon the produce stands around my little piece of heaven will transition from peaches and apples to pumpkins. Pumpkin spice is already available at local coffee shops and Blue Moon is offering their Winter Pumpkin Ale. Not all harbingers are good.

Don Miller’s most recent release is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and may be downloaded or purchased in paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1PhzBApVfH1AYmpXdi6sDbZWknrqQT5u9DSgvUR2f_uF0Od9ApcLIu1BE

Tastes Like Chicken

Shane Walsh: [about eating frog legs] When you get down to that last can of beans, you’re gonna be loving those frog legs, lady. I can see it now… [imitating Lori Grimes] “Shane, do you think I could have a second helping, please? Please? Just one?”

Lori Grimes: Yeah, I doubt that.

Shane Walsh: [to Carl Grimes] Don’t listen to her, man. You and me, we’ll be heroes. We’ll feed these folks Cajun-style Kermit legs.

Lori Grimes: I would rather eat Miss Piggy. Yes, that came out wrong.

Snappy Repertoire from The Walking Dead

Warning: This is not about The Walking Dead but about my addiction to cooking shows, food, and memories involving frog legs. They do taste like chicken.

Not that I’m ever going to prepare Chicken Kiev or Beef Stroganov, but I watch cooking shows allowing The Pioneer Woman to cause Pavlovian responses cooking brisket with cowboy baked beans featuring burnt ends or Giada De Laurentiis preparing anything. Just stand there Giada, just stand there. Another type of Pavlovian response.

My thoughts raced down a pig trail after a conversation with a Northern friend about what we might have eaten at a restaurant had it been named the “Roadkill Café.” Much of our banter centered around squirrels and possums along with my favorite saying, “flatter than a toad frog on a four-lane highway.”

I pointed out that I had grown up “country rich”, never having to resort to roadkill. I admitted to having been permanently scarred for life cleaning fish and turtles, plucking and gutting chickens, skinning squirrels, and slaughtering hogs to supplement the protein requirements of our diets.  I feel fortunate my family drew the line at possum. I did occasionally eat frog legs, the subject of this rabbit hole I fell into.

Later in the day, as I looked for a recipe for fried frog legs, I stumbled across a YouTube video featuring one of the Duck Dynasty boys preparing frog legs. I watched it. Fifteen minutes of my life I’ll never get back. I realized frog legs may taste like chicken, but no one ever shows the nasty side…gigging and skinning little green Kermits or wringing little Henny Penny’s neck.

For some reason, the video reminded of a young lady whose bright light had burned out, who asked, “Why do people raise beef? We can go to the supermarket and buy it.” I’m sure there is a logic there that only she understood. I’m also sure one can find pre-skinned frog legs somewhere but somewhere else there is a frog walking on stumps.

I was first introduced to frog legs when I was quite young. An uncle home from college and a couple of cousins had spent the night gigging frogs…and I suspect, participated in activities my grandmother would have frowned upon involving distilled spirits. Still, they were sober enough to deliver a croker sack of frogs to my grandmother who skinned them and prepared them along with grits and eggs for breakfast.

I remember awaking to the smell of something I was unfamiliar with frying. Sautéing frog legs heavily peppered were literally twitching in butter in a big cast iron frying pan. They were twitching, I kid you not.

Gross alert, view at your own risk

Did you know that Mary Shelly was inspired by twitching frog legs while writing Frankenstein? Sorta inspired. The frog legs weren’t frying but according to the Smithsonian Magazine, Shelley was inspired by the concept of galvanism—the idea that scientists could use electricity to stimulate or restart life. Galvanism, using an electrical current, would cause frog legs to jump. Feel smarter? I wonder if they fried them afterwards.

The French consider frog legs to be a delicacy, but this, according to differing theories, has nothing to do with calling the French the derogatory term, Frog. It is more likely due to the Frog that was a part of the counter-revolutionary flag flown during the French Revolution. No matter what theory do not call a Frenchman a Frog. It’s not nice.

While I was in college, I went gigging with a couple of fraternity brothers and a chemistry teacher. In a flat bottomed jon boat, armed with gigs and flashlights, we paddled the perimeter of a small lake looking for little green eyes glowing in the reflection of our lights. We would paddle in close, gig the frog, and put him in our own croker sack. We might have partaken of some distilled spirits like my uncle but I’m not sure.

All was grand until a snake crawled into our boat. Instead of using an oar to stun the snake and put him back into the water, one of my frat brothers pulled a concealed pistol and put three bullet holes in the bottom of our boat.

The snake? Perfectly safe and still in the boat under the croker sack. The rest of us? Paddling for dear life to get back to the landing while avoiding the snake before we sank. Since that time, I’ve not gone frog gigging again and have only eaten frog legs on an all you can eat seafood buffet a hundred years ago.

It seemed safer to look online and inquire where I might find some preskinned frog legs. Ten dollars a pound plus shipping? Imported? Geez. I guess that is why they are a delicacy. Well since chicken also tastes like chicken, I think I’ll grill up some wings instead.

An excellent recipe for frog legs or chicken wings https://foodchannel.com/recipes/cajun-fried-frog-leg-recipe

The Food Channel

Don Miller’s authors page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1rEhMYcMA8cZ4B9q3hI4Csq2sS3MBrJdAEpNjnvu1wqcIuf_yHjBO_HtY

The “Worser Days”

“But I’m here to let you know
That I’ll love you like you deserve
I’ll treat you right
And on a cold, cold night
I’ll shower you in hugs & kisses
And soup”

― Talia Basma, Being

It’s not soup season but here I am thinking about it anyway. Who am I kidding, any season is soup season. I won’t bore you with the triggers, what I call the Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes of my mind. But let’s talk soup…cooter soup and my grandmother.

On my morning walk, Quigley my “tripaw” Blue Heeler and I watched a huge snapper swim by, and it took me to bygone days. It took Quigley nowhere; he was busy rolling in the grass.

My memory was of a morning spent fishing and the memories the activity triggered. As I fished, an alligator snapping turtle paid a visit that day too, as did several Eastern water turtles.  I’m sure they were looking for a free meal from a stringer that wasn’t there.  I was fishing “catch and release” remembering the trials of cleaning fish. I remembered when cooters were food and harder to clean than fish.

We called the turtles cooters back in the day, from the West African word kuta.  With a modern change in usage, I must be careful when using the name and ready for an explanation. 

Momma cooter looking for a place to lay her eggs this Spring

The snapper’s shell was as big as an old-fashioned Caddy hubcap.  My grandmother spoke in my head, “Don’t let a cooter bite you ’cause it won’t let go till it thunders.”  I answered back as I often do, “I don’t know about that Nannie, but I know he’ll take a finger off.”

There was a morning when, as a child in short britches, I hopped up on a rock and it began to walk off. I screamed at my Nannie. She, when seeing the object of my distress, with sack dress held up above her knees, ran off and came back with a butcher knife and a seventeen-gallon wash tub. I was about to be taught the intricacies of butchering and cooking a cooter.

In the present day, I made the mistake of casting near the turtle trying to scare him away.  Big ‘uns like that don’t scare. Despite his size he was quick in the water.  The old mossback submerged and took the worm and hung himself on the hook.  I tried to keep him from heading to the bottom expecting him to break my line.  The line didn’t break, instead he stripped the gears in my old reel and hunkered down on the bottom to wait me out.  Looks like I’m in the market for another Zebco. 

My grandmother would make cooter soup from the turtles she caught or those that happen to wander through her yard.  During her day, Southern farmers survived the depression days preparing cooter soup, or catfish stew, or fried rabbit.  She still made use of the free proteins that reminded her of the “worser days”, before and during the Great Depression.  At least she stopped short of possum. She said it was too greasy.  I’ll have to take her word that it is.

I understand turtle soup is now considered a delicacy.  To my grandmother it was free meat from when times were hard. As I researched recipes, I saw a restaurant fare, Mike’s Bait Shop Turtle Stew…it looked better than its name might suggest. There are many different recipes, but I guess my grandmother’s version would be the best…just because.

He looks like he could eat at Mike’s Bait Shop…I mean eat the bait shop.

I remember a big iron pot on an outdoor fire boiling water to dip the cooter in to loosen its shell and skin.  It was a lot of work to crack open the shell and skin and bone the meat, being careful to remove the eggs and liver.  Rich looking dark meat would be parboiled and ground like hamburger, sautéed with onion before being cooked like vegetable soup.  Soup heavy with tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, and okra to thicken.  Maybe celery or carrots thrown in for good measure.  Basic “everything but the kitchen sink” soup with a twist.  Everything harvested from her garden, sometimes even the turtle.  The old cooter tasted like chicken with the consistency of beef…or was it the other way around?

I thought of this as I waited for the turtle to resurface. How long can a cooter stay down?  Still waiting after a half hour, I tugged on the line and felt the load on the end move.  Hand over hand I hoped the line wouldn’t cut me if he ran.  He didn’t run and I pulled him close to the bank before taking out my MacGyver knife. I cut my line as close to the hook as I dared, fearing he might exact his revenge by taking a bite out of me and watched the old mossback disappear into deep water.

Walking back home in the midday heat, I carried no fish but there was a spring in my step as I thought the best life has to offer sometimes requires a lot of work…and provides sweet memories too. An evening in late summer came to my mind.  Carrying two stringers of hand sized blue gills, near eighty total.

Two old women who were probably not as old as I imagined, in flour sack dresses and wide straw hats and a small boy sharing the load.  Sitting out under the privet hedge and stars next to the garden cleaning them all.  Nannie, her friend, Miss Maggie Cureton, and a young boy.  Listening to them laugh and tell stories of the “worser days” that didn’t seem so bad.  Enough fish for three families to feast on the next day.

 A memory to feast on for life.

“Change is the salt in the soup of life.”
― Gyles Brandreth, Have You Eaten Grandma?

If you liked this reflection of bygone days, you might like “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes.” It and all of Don Miller’s writings can be purchased in paperback or downloaded at

“Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard”

“My daddy says that when you do somethin’ to distract you from your worstest fears, it’s like whistlin’ past the graveyard. You know, making a racket to keep the scaredness and the ghosts away. He says that’s how we get by sometimes. But it’s not weak, like hidin’…it’s strong. It means you’re able to go on.” ― Susan Crandall, Whistling Past the Graveyard

I am doing a lot of whistling past graveyards… to act or talk as if one is relaxed and not afraid when one is afraid or nervous. I’m not sure I’m afraid or nervous, but I am aware…too aware…of the passage of time. Aware that the sands left in the hourglass are dwindling…so maybe there is a little fear and nervousness.

I’ve lost three childhood idols in the past week. Bill Russell, Nichole Nichols, and Vin Scully. I knew none of them personally, but their passing brought pain and a sense of loss, and worse, introspection. Introspection…something I try to avoid.

I’m at an age when I cannot deny my own mortality, but I don’t like thinking about it.

Many of us think we are going to somehow outrun the Grim Reaper but as my best friend says too often, “We ain’t getting out of here alive.” The image of the Grim Reaper in my rear-view mirror has grown closer as I have grown slower. Still, attempting to outrun the Grim Reaper seems to be an effective way to live my life no matter my age and beats waiting around for the scythe to reap me.

Age…I’m at an age that I cannot deny I’ve lost a step or five. First thing in the morning I’m a bit unsteady. I no longer hop out of the bed anticipating the day, I ease out and try and sneak up on it.

When I meet up with old farts, I compare the way they look or move. Compared to many of my contemporaries I’m in fairly decent shape and I could beat them all in a five-yard sprint. With that and a nickel I can buy a piece of bubble gum. I remember when I could buy five pieces of Bazooka for a penny. Why does everyone my age look so old and who is that guy in the mirror?

Life is good but there are the pains that go with a lifetime of normal abuse, and I think mine might lean toward abnormal. Too many repetitive athletic endeavors have ruined my joints, too much fried food has clogged my arteries, too many cigars and brown liquor has addled my mind. I should have taken Billy Noonan’s quote more to heart, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

When someone dies, known or unknown, I tend to compare ages. Well, old Bill was eighty-nine, he was seventeen years older than me. Seventeen years…that’s a long time. I still have time. Then I look back and I realize the past seventeen years have passed in the blink of an eye. I also realize, I’m not guaranteed any time other than what I have with this breath. No amount of whistling past the graveyard will change that.

I’m not afraid of dying. I admit I’m afraid of dying badly, I hope I don’t long for death to come. Dying in the arms of a passionate woman might be the best way to go.

I believe there is “something” after death. Science says energy and mass can be neither created nor destroyed, they can only be changed. I believe conservation of energy will transcend death…or is that more whistling past the graveyard? Is that in a closed system?

Whistling or not, I’ve made plans. My will has been made and I ‘ve requested a gathering of friends, a gathering I intend to attend…even if it is as a small pile of ash. A bottle of Gentleman Jack will be cracked open, toasts made to the dearly departed and funny stories told at my expense. When the bottle is empty, I have instructed my bride to transfer my ashes to the bottle and place them in a cool location. I fear I may need a cool place as I ride through eternity.

More Whistling past the graveyard with Jimmy Buffett.

For more of Don Miller’s “Corny” pone, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3mOJBeCIdYFmtmjd13NuoyUMu5KPAYDTwo_9yA_jnZ2oftvitbyBMjllY

A Decadently Sweet, Exquisite Pleasure

“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.” ― Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

I must add, “and one of the exquisite pleasures of the Southern summer.”

Last week I picked my first home grown tomato. I dined on the first tomato sandwich of the season. Both sweet and tart…in the past week I have dined on at least one tomato sandwich daily and have included them in other dishes. One can never get enough of a good thing.

This week I picked my first fig and ate it in the early morning as suggested by Elizabeth David. The fruit was untouched by the morning sun. Covered in dew it was still cool from the nighttime temperatures. It WAS a decadently exquisite pleasure. I picked more than I could eat at one time but for some reason the picked figs I eat later don’t seem to be as decadent as the ones I eat fresh from the tree.

The Brown Turkey Fig I intend to enjoy…now.

My trees, I have two, came from cuttings my grandmother started for me over thirty years ago. She laid a small limb down on the ground and put a rock on it. When roots formed, she snipped it loose from the tree and I brought it home to transplant. Her tree came from a cutting her mother gave her and I am still trying to get a cutting to give my daughter.

I’ve described the fig as decadent, an odd word to describe the fig considering its religious overtones. Adam and Eve covered their nudity with fig leaves after sampling the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In western culture the forbidden fruit has been portrayed as the apple.

Considering that the fig was cultivated well before the apple, it is quite possible the apple has received a bad rap. The fig might have been the forbidden fruit Lucifer No Shoulders successfully tempted Eve with…if so, decadent might be a perfect word. The fig or the fig tree is mentioned some two hundred times in the Bible, the apple less than ten.

Okay, for the biologists in the group. A fig is technically not a fruit. It is an inverted flower…whatever that is. If it looks like fruit…tastes like fruit…

In the Quran, the fig is considered THE sacred fruit. Buddha rested under the Bodhi Tree, a fig tree whose DNA still exists after three thousand years. It was under this tree the Buddha gained enlightenment. Both the Hindus and Jains consider the fig a holy fruit. The Greeks so loved the fig they enacted laws forbidding the export of them.

A painting of the Buddha under the Ficus Religiosa. The “tree of awakening”.

As Christianity began to view nudity differently than say…the Greeks, religious paintings and statues featuring nudity were redone, some even destroyed in the attempt. Many fig leaves were added after the fact to cover he and she parts.

I’m not sure David needed a covering for his man part.

My figs are Brown Turkey figs. I don’t know why they are called Turkey figs but guess it might have to do with country of origin. Figs are associated with Greece and Asia Minor was awash with Greeks for a thousand years before the Turks of the Ottoman Empire descended upon them.

I’m sure the Greeks brought their fig tree cuttings with them, fig trees that came from Egypt or North Africa to Crete to Greece and then on to Turkey. These became known as Brown Turkey figs. Turkey is one of the top four fig producers worldwide.

I could be wrong but I’m glad someone brought them to Spain and from Spain to Mexico. From Mexico it was only a turkey’s hop, skip, and jump to California. Spanish Franciscan missionaries brought the fig to southern California in 1520, leading to the variety known as the Mission fig. California produces ninety-seven percent of commercial figs sold in the United States. If you like Fig Newtons, thank the Franciscans.

Ain’t cultural diffusion wonderful!

Brown Turkeys normally have two crops. The first, the crop I’m feasting on now, features large brown/yellow fruit on the outside, light red, almost pink insides. Oh, those insides, sweet and sugary, but not so sweet they set your teeth on edge. One site I was reading described the taste as “decadently sweet, providing flavors of hazelnuts and confectionaries.” I just ate one and didn’t get the taste of hazelnuts. I just describe it as good, especially covered in dew in the pre-dawn light.

The second crop provides more numerous fruits but smaller in size. Fruit that is perfect to wrap in bacon and roast in balsamic vinegar. I mean, figs and bacon are perfect together. I still go out in the pre-dawn and eat a few raw before I harvest.

My figs are a labor of love and of luck. Luck primarily. Our climate is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and is not conducive for figs. Several times over the past thirty-five years my tree has been killed down to the roots by a late freeze or the first crop decimated by a killing frost.

Despite my worries the tree would not recover, it always has. In some ways it reminds me of my grandmother who somehow recovered for ninety-eight years. I would never describe her as decadently sweet, but she was an exquisite pleasure, and my predawn fig always reminds me of her.

Expulsion of Adam and Eve ~ Aureliano Milani , 1675–1749

For a humorous guide on how not to gather figs, you might like Ha, Ha, Ha! Stupid Man Goes Boom! https://cigarman501.com/2020/08/16/ha-ha-ha-stupid-man-goes-boom/

Don Miller’s Author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3Sku_ycekhc9FkHrr-nv6_eKa65eciZwTRigrKR9zYwwmglFkhWSfcJ0k

“Lawd Have Mercy…I’m Gonna Melt”

“By July, a damp Southern heat had settled down on the town like warm sweet syrup.” ― Marti Healy

Lawd, it is July early, just a few days past the Fourth, and it is already hotter than new asphalt laid down in August. It’s a still heat…nay it is stagnant. It hangs like a heavy curtain. I imagine being wrapped in a wet, wool blanket and forced to sit in a sauna. I just took a shower after an early morning fitness walk, and I don’t know why I took the time to dry off.

It is a silent heat. The birds aren’t singing or flying about. The only movement I detect is the swarm of mosquitoes chasing a swarm of gnats. I just mentioned three of the five most hated things about summer in the South. The other two? Stinging critters and the humidity.

According to the biology, sweat evaporation is necessary to keep the body cool. It ain’t working. I’m sweating gallons but the humidity is so high the perspiration drips from my nose and runs downhill into my shoes.

My mind wanders to a hot, midday August practice. Football in the South, gotta love it. The player was an industrial sized defensive lineman dragging himself through whatever hell I was having him do.

As I watched him huff and puff, I asked, “Are you okay?”

The young man didn’t even look up, “Coach, I’m okay, I’ve just dyin’ of heat castration.”

I knew better than ask but I did, “What exactly is heat castration.”

“Coach, when it’s so hot I’m sweating my balls off.”

It is as still as the inside of a coffin and I’m not moving fast enough to create a breeze. Southern authors might describe the heat as “sultry.” No, Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat was sultry. I’m sitting on the hot tin roof without her. (For those not old enough, Elizabeth Taylor starred in the movie “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” She is referred to as Maggie the Cat by her husband, portrayed by Paul Newman.)

Elizabeth Taylor making a slip look “sultry”

I think our Southern summers are trying to kill us. I need to cut my grass. I walked out before checking the temperature on my phone’s weather app. After I got outside, I no longer needed to check it. “Lawd, I’m gonna burst into flames.”

I decided the grass could wait. After checking the daily forecasts, cutting might have to wait until October. The heat index, what hell feels like to the skin, is 105.

I have grown fat and soft. The heat didn’t bother me as it rippled the air over the corn, cotton, and hay fields of my youth causing heat mirages to form over the fields. Well…it bothered me, but I didn’t let it stop me…I wasn’t allowed to let it stop me. That is not the case now. It stops me dead in my tracks.

I live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It is cooler here than the rest of the state. I don’t know how people live in the midlands. Orangeburg is located just south of Columbia and just above hell. Living there must feel like living in the top of a double boiler.

Before you folk living in Texas, Arizona, and Death Valley, California, chime in, heat and humidity are relative to where you live. You live there, I live here and I’m sweating like a sporting lady sitting in the front row of a church.

As a young church goer, I remember sitting through summer sermons in our unairconditioned church. Tall windows open for wasp to fly in but are catching little of a nonexistent breeze. If there was a breeze it always seemed superheated as if from a blast furnace. On a particularly hot day, our stoic minister recorded what had to be the shortest sermon of all time. “If you think it is hot now, just wait. Mend your ways or suffer hellfire. Benediction please!”

Overdressed women with funeral home fans frantically trying to move the air. Overdressed men in suitcoats sitting stoically as perspiration pooled in their underwear. The women’s movements creating more heat than the heat they dissipated. My own perspiration causing my shirt to stick to the varnished pews.

Summer may be trying to kill us, but we wear our sweat stains like a badge of honor and produce creative and colorful ways to describe it. “Hotter than a blister bug in a pepper patch” and it’s close kin, “Hotter than a goat’s ass in a pepper patch.”  “Hotter than the devil’s housecat,” and my all-time favorite, “Hotter than two rats screwing in a wool sock.”

Blister Bug (Beetle) One of 7500 different varieties that cause painful blisters. Not nearly as sultry as Liz Taylor.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Eugene Walter, “Summer in the deep South is not only a season, a climate, it’s a dimension. Floating in it, one must be either proud or submerged.” Proud to be submerged in what must be a vat of very warm molasses.

Still, without the summer there would be no scents of honeysuckle mixing with jasmine and gardenias. There would be no lightning bugs, no lonesome call of the whippoorwill, no blue tailed skink living on my back porch. There would be no watching dragonflies chase each other over the cooling waters of the local lake.

There would be no anticipation of rain from the tree frogs, their croaking rising with the late evening breeze and the distant display of heat lightning. If fortunate, the blessed cool after a thunderstorm and the smell of ozone in the air.

There would be no tomato sandwiches and corn on the cob roasting on a grill. There would be no smell of BBQ slow cooking in a smoker…well, you can slow cook pork in the winter too, but winter tomatoes are God awful.

Summer might be trying to kill us, but it gives us sustenance, not physically but emotionally. We are all proud survivors…until we are not and in the South the dead don’t quite stay dead. I wonder if the ghosts of our past sweat as much as we do.

Don Miller writes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1M-GLJxRmzg_d2txgswxw3AvY26zxoXZH02axPJ0gJN3Kn77lEDX79vPY

Cheerwine…”Nectar of the South”

“Born in the South. Raised in a Glass” – Cheerwine Slogan

The little general store on the winding mountain road caught my eye and without consulting my co-pilot, Quigley Apples, or my navigator, Linda Gail, I slid the Jeep to a stop in front of the ancient gasoline pumps, Gulf with the old clear tops and decorated in blue and orange. There was copious barking, and not from Quigley. My wife did not like being jerked about.

Photo by Kathy Clark

“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs”.  The store front sported many antique signs, some with bullet holes, but unlike the song, they didn’t block any scenery, they made the scenery. The store reminded me of the image I use for my blog, a colorized version of a depression era general mercantile in North Carolina…except for the Texico pump.

Original photo by Dorothea Lange, colorized by unknown

Once I quieted the snarling from my bride, we made our way into the breeze created by the big overhead fans and the aroma of smashed hamburgers cooking on a gridle with onions. What a glorious smell. Quigley agreed if his nose in the air was an indication. Linda Gail? I’m not sure but her nose wasn’t in the air. She has no affinity for the smell of grilled onions.

What pulled me up short was the ancient Coca Cola ice cooler which, due to its age, had been turned into an ice box. Soft drinks covered in ice, a weep hole drilled into the side to allow the water to drain into a large, graniteware dishpan as the ice melted. With visions of an eight-ounce coke filled to the rim with a package of Lance peanuts, I reached in and got a surprise.

I didn’t pull out a “Dope”, instead my fingers closed around a Cheerwine. Golly, Gee, Whiz, I haven’t seen one of these in a month of Sundays. Well, I don’t get out much and I tend not to choose soft drinks unless it is in a Cuba Libre or Jack and Coke. What a lovely surprise.

Cheerwine has been around since 1917 but for some reason it is scarce as hen’s teeth in my part of the world, or I haven’t been paying attention. Supposedly it is the oldest continuous family-owned soft drink company in the United States, the Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, NC. The family of Lewis Peeler, its founder, runs it and has for the last one hundred and five years.

From their website, “Cheerwine has a mildly sweet flavor with strong cherry notes, most notably black cherry; is burgundy-colored; and has an unusually high degree of carbonation compared to other soft drinks. The product was named for its color and taste”. According to Wikipedia, the company website also states that “it made sense to name a burgundy-red, bubbly, cherry concoction—Cheerwine.” The far superior, “Retro Cheerwine”, variant is sold in glass bottles and is sweetened with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Despite its name, Cheerwine is not really a wine and contains no alcohol. I had scored a glass bottle.

From Zac’s Dinner Menu, Burlington, NC. Note the burgundy color that contains the “strong cherry notes”

As I sipped, I remembered the fountain version sold at the old pharmacy on main street in Monroe, NC that I mixed with another Southern libation Sun Drop. Served with a maraschino cherry, I found it to be better than the traditional cherry, lemon, Coca Cola. There is a drink called “The Whining Pirate” made with Cheerwine and Captain Morgan Rum. I’m getting a bad vibe thinking about praying to the porcelain altar after a few too many Whining Pirates.

The Cheerwine takes me to further memories of the eight-ounce Cokes, Pepsis, and Nehi grape and orange sodas at Pettus Store’s cooler…and the bubble gum machine where a one cent speckled ball got you an eight-ounce nickel Coke for free. With an added nickel I could add a pack of peanuts. Heaven for six cents if I was lucky.

Just for clarification, I used the word “Dope” because the early version of Coca Cola supposedly contained cocaine and the “old folks” called it a “Dope.” Further, if you are in the South and ask for a coke, be prepared to answer a follow-up question, “What kind of coke?” If you actually want a Coca Cola, you should ask for a Coca Cola. The descriptor coke is one of the all-encompassing titles that could include any form of soft drink in the South from Mountain Dews, Sundrops, to Royal Crown Colas. For goodness’ sake, don’t ask for a “soda pop” or it’s shortened version “pop”. You might get run out of town in a northerly direction.

Visit Don Miller’s authors site at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2RoznX3G2uccbNXc-ZvsS1Dxfyk0wvVhXpJYsCeHWey4W1A5nKnlxglDg

Don’s latest book is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and can be found at the link above.