All the stories he could tell…

Hank Williams Sr

“Stared at that guitar/At that museum in Tennessee/Nameplate on the glass/Brought back twenty melodies”

A musical pilgrimage. That’s what I called my trip to Luchenbach, Texas nine years ago.

Today I still pine for seeing Sun Studios in Memphis, Abbey Road, LaGrange and for standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona. I’ve a road-tripped to see U2, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Dylan, Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson and The Rolling Stones. I’ve stood in the presence of Merle Haggard and a host of country stars because I was country when country wasn’t cool. One evening I walked around downtown Athens and heard the haunting melodies of REM float over the town from a concert at Legion Field. Once upon a time I even took my mama with me to see Hank Williams Junior. And I’ve listened to Americana under the stars at Luchenbach.

art in hall of fame

A journey isn’t just a beginning and an end. The in-between is crucial.

This latest adventure—to check The Rolling Stones off Nolan’s bucket list—started in the Upstate of South Carolina and led us all the way to The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  But a journey isn’t just a beginning and an end.  The in-between is crucial.

This epic road trip to see The Stones was also a musical pilgrimage, with the principal detour being a visit to Nashville, two nights spent under Todd Snider’s East Nashville skyline, nameless musicians in honky tonk bars and a visit to The Country Music Hall of Fame. Add a quick trip to Bass Pro Shops and it’s staggering what you can cram into two days.

The essence of Nashville is to be found downtown on Broadway. Honky tonks with bad bar food and good cover musicians who don’t stand a chance of making it are interspersed with boot and hat stores and retro clothing boutiques. Every fifty yards or so there is a street musician busking for bucks, everything from one-man bands to traveler kids to Johnny Cash lookalikes to drum acts.

Johnny Cash's black suit

“Do you wonder why I always dress in black?/Why I never wear bright colors on my back?”

Up the street The Country Music Hall of Fame was packed on a Thursday morning. Curiously we arrived at the same time as a large group of excited but well-behaved black children. I happened to stand before Dwight Yoakum’s nudie suit with them and listened to their teacher point out details of the costume.

“See these pockets?” She said, gesturing to upper chest pockets. “They are called smile pockets because they turn up at the corner.”

Darn. Learn something new every day, I thought.

The children sat on the floor and filled out worksheets.

“This is, well, I’ll let you read it. Can you write down his name?”

* * *

art at Country Music Hall of Fame

“If Hank Williams was alive today/I can tell you where he wouldn’t be/Hanging around that Hall of Fame/In Nashville, Tennessee.”   Marshall Chapman, “A Thank You Note” from the album Jaded Virgin

Greasy and Nolan blew through it and I felt like I did as well. There is simply too much too see in one quick visit. Season passes and frequent trips are what it would take to absorb this museum.

Besides Dwight Yoakum, I worshiped at a few displays: Hank Williams’ guitar, Mother Maybelle’s guitar, one of many man-in-black Johnny Cash suits, Gram Parsons’ pills-and-cannabis nudie suit, Elvis Pressley’s Cadillac, Earl Scruggs’ banjo, the cornfield set of the television show Hee Haw. A wall of portraits of country music’s power couples: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Web Pierce’s nudie Cadillac, obscene with tooled saddle leather and steer horns on the front. Little Jimmy Dickens’ display of tiny boots and lime green nudie suit. George Strait’s everyday Western shirt and Wranglers. Actual blue suede shoes.

Bob Dylan, Johnny Cast and the Nashville Cats

“Rock and country, they flow back and forth between each other.”

The current exhibit of note is Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats. I’d known that Johnny and Bob were friends. This huge exhibit was a testament to their sense of awe at each other and to the behind-the-scenes individuals that make Nashville tick. Session musicians and sound engineers.

nudie suit

Cannabis-and-pills nudie suit worn by Gram Parsons

It’s also an affirmation of the fact that music is plastic and fluid. Rock and country, they flow back and forth between each other. To me this is a huge paradox: I grew up thinking that you either liked country or rock. Not both. And this couldn’t be further from the truth. To hearken back to my biologist’s training, country and rock are mutualists, locked in a symbiotic relationship.

Right before the museum’s inevitable exit-into-the- gift-shop is the Rotunda. My glimmer twins walked right past it and sat down in the lobby to wait for me.

Whispering, a docent gestured, her voice reverent, “This is the actual hall of fame.”

A small fountain and wishing well were just inside the entryway, full of coins. The rotunda was magic. Holy. Quiet. I circled clockwise, reading the brass plate of each member. I was reminded of my emotional overload experiences at The Alamo and The Astronaut Memorial at Cape Canaveral. There were souls there with me. Souls.

* * *

 

Nashville Tennesse honky tonk

Nolan takes in Nashville from a honky tonk

We walked from the Hall of Fame to Broadway, where we stood on the corner and

Nameless musician in Nashville

“This city is slam full of broken dreams.”

Nolan eenie-meenie-minee-moed over where to eat. He selected a three-tiered honky tonk that boasted a different band on each level. We ascended to the third floor and the view was amazing. A trio of musicians played cover songs that reiterated the flux between country and rock ‘n roll.

“This is incredibly sad,” I said, still feeling all those souls, though this time I was thinking of the non-famous ones.

“What?” said Nolan.

“This city is slam full of broken dreams.”

One only had to look to the stage before us: three men holding guitars and two girlfriends making up the audience.

I put a twenty in their tip bucket as we left, leaned over and whispered conspiratorially to them, “We’re on our way to Indianapolis to see The Rolling Stones.”

“Aw, man, you’ll love ‘em. I saw them a couple of weeks ago when they were here and they were awesome.”

Thank you, sir, I thought.  In case nobody ever tells you, you are, too.

A musician huddles in a doorway in Nashville

“With a million dollar spirit/And an old flattop guitar/
They drive to town with all they own/In a hundred dollar car.”  ~Thom Schulyer; performed by Lacy J. Dalton.

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Ladies and Gentlemen–The Rolling Stones. Part I, Venue Review

Part I of our epic road trip to see The Rolling Stones in Concert

Stones picture

Ladies and gentlemen…The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Fourth of July. An epic road trip. What could be more right?

Apparently football stadium shows with actual seats are a lot more right. This spectacular concept was good in theory. I had tickets to park in the infield, a great tailgate venue if there ever was one. And we couldn’t get there until after the opening act Rascal Flatts had started their set because of horrible traffic.

But before I begin lambasting the venue and production, I want to say some positive things about the city of Indianapolis! It was easy to navigate. The downtown was beautiful with streets and sidewalks that were wide and super-clean. The people were very nice, from fast-food waitresses to Dollar store employees to the staff at upscale restaurants. We would gladly go back and southern monster cities like Atlanta and Charlotte could learn something from this sleeper city in the Midwest.

Greasy and Nolan in Indy

My very own glimmer twins take in downtown Indianapolis

I’ll also add that driving through the tunnel into the Brickyard was an incredible thrill, even though I am not a race fan.

 

Approach

A short YouTube video produced by Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave instructions of how to get to the venue. It was woefully inadequate. It told of what street to approach from but not which direction and did not tell premier ticket-holders which gates were in use. Likewise the paper parking admission ticket did not tell which gates to use or which direction to approach. Fail, fail, fail.

If I learned anything it was to do a mock approach the day before and figure that (expletive) out.

Rolling Stones silver ticket section

Nolan, in Silver seating section.

 

Comfort

The big lie was our actual paper admission tickets. They boasted a section, row and seat number. They promised a vista of the enormous stage. In reality there were zero seats. I found this out the afternoon beforehand on the video from Indianapolis Motor Speedway on how to safely get there and enjoy the show as well as what you could or could not bring in.

It was presented like an incidental announcement—they advised then that it was festival seating. Bring blankets and cushions. No chairs would be allowed.

Blankets and cushions? No chairs?  Insert the world’s most common profane acronym here. We found a Dollar Store in Avon and bought three $7 cushions and a cheap fleece throw, all in suitably bright-almost-psychedelic patterns. It didn’t matter; we couldn’t sit comfortably there. The stage was at the bottom on a little hill. Sitting on the hill was more torture than standing. I won’t even go there about the chiggers.

I saw a medical tent. And remembered Altamont. And wryly wondered how many heart attack, strokes and fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up were taken into it.

 

Visibility

You needn’t have worried that I would throw my panties on the stage.

I never saw the actual stage or the actual Stones.  Just their images on the big screen. By carefully standing on tiptoes and peering between giants standing in front of me I could see the top ¾ of the huge screens above the stage. I saw images of Mick dancing around on stage. I even saw an image of –Keith, yes, Keith—running twice.

I like having the drunk and stoned dancing around me, a whiff of ganga, a splash of spilled beer and a passed out person or two. It adds to the whole experience.

But let’s face it—The Stones are old and so are we, their audience. I saw a lot of white-haired women like myself, cripples and really fat people hobbling along. It was a long but far from unbearable walk to the seating area, a hunt for a place to throw a blanket and a very long stand. Along the way some people took advantage of bicycle-rickshaws and some bumped along in their motorized wheelchairs.

Would Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie endure that cheerfully? I doubt it.

The Rolling Stones

Ronnie, Mick and Keith during the Indianapolis concert July 2015

Security

My sense of security was also let down. What do tens of thousands of people, the proximity of an airport’s flight path, alcohol and drugs, thousands of fireworks, the most patriotic national holiday and a heightened terror alert have in common?

A recipe for unparalleled disaster is what it is.

I may be a tiny bit more situationally aware than most people. Maybe it’s that I read too many Jack Reacher novels. I do like to have an escape route planned ahead. And I fully exercised it the night before when some jackass pulled the fire alarm in the hotel. I knew where the stairs were. Down and out in the middle of the (expletive) night!

Beforehand at the hotel, I mused aloud, wondering if The Stones had played a US speedway since Altamont.  Knowing that my own glimmer twins were naïve to the story I read it to them from the internet. All of it—poor planning, poor setup, drunk Hell’s Angels, fights/knives/gunshots, death. The alleged botched Long Island hit on Mick Jagger.

And I ended my soliloquy with the hope that I wanted to be carefully searched going in, because if I was, every potential terrorist or testosterone-fueled would-be killer du jour also would be carefully searched.

We weren’t. Going into the tunnel under the famed Brickyard a woman barely glanced at our tickets. Instead of scanning them she scribbled on them with a red magic marker. And we were in.

Tickets for the Rolling Stones Indianapolis concert 2015

Our infamous paper tickets, with red scribbles

Parking was a breeze. Well-handled and well directed. Once in the venue a security checkpoint was a joke. The search of my cavernous beach bag was cursory. And the pat-down? She barely brushed my pants.

Going through the bag beforehand I had removed my Thermacell mosquito repellent device because it has an internal ignition system and runs on butane cartridges. They wouldn’t have known that. A pile of confiscated items there at the checkpoint attested to the fact that they didn’t want you bringing in your own water and candy. My granola bars were not detected during the search. And once again, our tickets were never scanned.

Driving into the infield we stopped at a bathroom building to use the facility. Right near there we saw row upon row of fireworks sitting wired and ready to be detonated. Out there in the open, apparently unguarded. What if some nut with a match had run through there?

During the show I was able to relax and forget that someone could crash a plane into the crowd or point the fireworks into this knot of mellow old humanity and fire away. Was the security just carefully hidden? Were there armed moles scattered throughout?

Let’s just say that I was a bit on edge until the biggest fireworks display in the USA started shooting up into the sky instead of into the crowd. 10,530 charges. It was a suitably big bang. It could have made a much bigger bang.

This was the premier rock concert event held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Here’s hoping there are improvements before the next one(s).

The Show and General Musings

Must wait for the next blog.

In this one I’ll just say: They are old. We are old. Everything is so much sweeter with age. They are just as good as when I saw them (twice) in 1989. Raunch and roll at its pinnacle. Two hours of starting me up, making a grown man cry, a gasgasgas. I got a lot of satisfaction.

I’m alive and richer for it to tell the tale, though, and now must go soak my ancient feet.

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Little Orphant Annie…a scarey poem for Halloween!

a vintage halloween imageCome Halloween, I always think of my favorite spooky story from childhood. This time of year, it plays in my head over and over almost like a broken record.  My dad probably recited it so many times that he was sick of it, but I’ve never tired of this poem!

I have taken it from The Best-Loved Poems of James Whitcomb Riley.  Copyrights given in my copy of this book of poems range from 1883 to 1934.  Riley was known as “The Children’s Poet” or “The Hoosier Poet,”  and his poems were popular in the United States until about the mid-twentieth century.

First published on November 5, 1885, this poem was very popular in its day, and spawned the concept of the more familiar Little Orphan Annie that we know from stage, screen and comic strips.  The poem was based on a real person, Mary Alice “Allie” Smith.  Smith was a real girl–an orphan–who lived in the Riley home when he was a child.  It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Johnny Gruelle morphed the character into the rag dolls and other Little Orphan Annie’s of popular culture.

Riley wrote in a rather heavy dialect, which I have taken the liberty of toning down for re-sharing this poem.  In my opinion, the intentional misspellings and contractions are rather hard on a modern reader’s eye.  In his time, he was loved for his onomatopoeia, alliteration and phonetic intensifiers.

Amazingly, there is a public domain audio recording by James Whitcomb Riley himself.  This “phonograph recording” was made in 1912.  It’s 101 years old.  Enjoy!  Little Orphant Annie recited by James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley poem

Little Orphant Annie

by James Whitcomb Riley

(gently abridged for the modern reader by Jacquelyn Holmes Burns)

Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

And wash the cups and saucers up, and brush the crumbs away,

And shoo the chickens off the porch, and dust the hearth, and sweep,

And make the fire, and bake the bread and earn her board and keep;

And all us other children, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire and has the most-est fun

A-listening to the witch-tales that Annie tells about,

And the Goblins that gets you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

*  *  *  *  *

"An' the Gobble-uns'll git you ef you don't watch out!"

Once they was a little boy who wouldn’t say his prayers,

So when he went to bed a night, way upstairs,

His mamma heard him holler, and his daddy heard him bawl,

And when they turned the covers down, he wasn’t there at all!

And they seeked him in the rafter-room and cubbyhole and press,

And they seeked him up the chimney-flue, and everywheres, I guess

But all they every found was just his pants around about–

And the Goblins’ll get you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

*  *  *  *  *

Once there was a little boy, who wouldn't say his prayers

"But all they ever found was thist his pants an'round about..."

And one time a little girl would always laugh and grin,

And make fun of everyone–all her blood and kin;

And once, when there was company and old folks was there,

She mocked them and shocked them and said she didn’t care!

And just as she kicked her heels and turned to run and hide,

There was two great big Black Things a-standing by here side,

And they snatched her through the ceiling ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!

And the Goblins’ll get you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

*  *  *  *  *

spooky picture

"An' little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue, An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!"

And little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,

And the lamp-wick sputters, and the wind goes woo-oo!

And you gear the crickets quit, and the moon is gray,

And the lightning bugs in dew is all squenched away–

You better mind your parents and your teachers fond and dear,

And cherish them that loves you and dry the orphan’s tear,

And help the poor and needy ones that clusters all about,

Or the Goblins’ll get you

If you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

Retro halloween cat with bats

Little Orphant Annie

by James Whitcomb Riley

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

Onc't they was a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wasn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an' roundabout--
An' the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever'one, an' all her blood an' kin;
An' onc't, when they was "company," an' ole folks was there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

An' little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parents, an' yer teachers fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns'll git you
             Ef you
                Don't
                   Watch
                      Out!

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15240#sthash.wfQEDmno.dpuf

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That Old School Bell’s Gonna Ring Loud and Long…

The other day I ran into an old friend.  We were in school together from the 6th grade until high school graduation and started to reminisce.  I teased him about a pretty unpopular teacher that we shared for 7th grade English who unfortunately followed us to the high school.  We had her again for 9th grade English.  Some poor folks even had her three years in a row.

She berated him constantly–whether he was doing anything bad or not, and I can still hear her calling him out in class,  “Mark Burke, you so mannish!”  My husband suffered a similar fate in her classes:  “Tommy Burns, you are grinning and that means you are up to no good!”

At any rate, I asked my friend who his favorite teacher was.  His answer came as a complete surprise to me.  I had in mind all of the great teachers we had in high school, whether physics or chemistry or 12th grade English lit.  But he shocked me by again reaching back into the 7th grade at old Ford School in Watts Mill and saying, “Well, Jackie, I guess it was your daddy.”

Another shared teacher, my daddy Jack Holmes taught us 7th grade science. I had almost forgotten that.

Surprised and humbled, the best I could do was blurt out “Why?”

“See, it’s funny what I can remember about school and what I can’t,” he said, “but I can remember specific questions on tests he gave us.”

Yeah, right, I thought.  “Name one.”

But he did.  “True or False.  Astronauts cannot eat in space because they can’t swallow.”

I had to think for a second, because it seemed so obvious that it sounded like a trick question.  My friend went on to explain the answer, that yes, they swallow because the muscles do the work of pushing ingesta down into the stomach.  The question made him think and made an impression on him, so I began to think of teachers who had made an impression on me.

My favorite teacher was 10th grade English teacher Mrs. Anna T. Mims, an exquisite lady who somehow took Silas Marner and inspired in me a love of literature that shapes who I am today.  I also adored the almost bashful and halting delivery of algebra-trig and physics teacher Mr. Ben Miller, the precise and demanding Chemistry teacher Mr. Harold Ligon, the irascible U.S. History teacher Mr. Tommy “Sub” Sublett,  strict government teacher Mrs. Rosemary Johnson and Mrs. Keith Oakes, who prepared us well for college with senior English lit.

I spent so many years in school, from Ford to the high school to Wofford College to the University of Georgia.  It would never have occurred to me that anybody could remember specific questions on specific tests.  Later on, I searched  my brain to see if I could recall any test questions.

They were all in college or vet school.  There was the infamous social ethics test at WoCo given by Professor Walt Hudgens, who passed out blue books and then said, “There is no test.  But I want you all to sit here and write in your blue book for at least an hour.  You can doodle, draw, write love letters, whatever…just pretend that you are taking a test.”  The class was flummoxed.  I chewed on the end of my pen for a few minutes staring off into space, then furiously started to write.

Of course it was a test, and on one of the ethical dilemmas we had studied.  Not as good of a test as the previous year when he came in the room, threw a rubber chicken on the desk and said, “Prove that this isn’t God,” but a test nonetheless.  He graded our blue books. I made an A+.

Another Wofford test I remembered was in the second day of class in Dr. H. Donald Dobbs’ freshman zoology.  Each fall he’d start with about 150 would-be doctors filling the lecture hall and rather quickly weed out those who weren’t cut out for medicine By the end of the four years, roughly a 12 to 14 of us actually made it into medical, dental or veterinary school.

Dobbs did it starting on the second day of class with a pop quiz on Latin and Greek prefixes, suffixes and root words.  Most of us, myself included, bombed the quiz.  Why would we think to study our dead languages for zoology class?  In fact, we probably represented the first generation of students who didn’t have the opportunity to take Latin in high school.  Tenacious, I hung in there and made it to the end.  In fact, on the biology class senior comprehensive exit exam, I scored  #1 of 19 graduating bio majors, edging out top rivals who went on to become orthopedic surgeons and gynecologists and dentists.

Another test that sticks in my mind was in vet school’s Public Health class, Dr. Brown’s infamous Caribou Test.  Most of my eighty-odd classmates bombed this test, which could have been on something important like tuberculosis in cow’s milk affecting everyday milk consumers.  Instead, 100% of the test was on the obscure cycle of brucellosis in caribou, wolves and native peoples in Alaska.  I aced the test, mainly because I enjoyed thinking about going up to the last frontier and hunting some of those pretty little caribou with my deer rifle.

I barely remember dragging myself out of bed, driving to the vet school and taking Dr. Clay Calvert’s cardiology final.  I had the flu so I called him and he would not let me out of taking the test.  I was out of my head with fever, but did about as well on the test as anybody else, as none of us could fathom Dr. Calvert or what he wanted from us come test time.

Small Animal Anatomy’s final lab practical was a doozy.  Dr. Peter Purinton took dogs and cats that we had dissected in the traditional longitudinal fashion and sawed them in cross-section, sticking pins in nerves and muscles and veins that we had never seen from that angle.

But the most interesting single test question I recall is from the practical exam in large animal anatomy.   Our only classroom blurb in poultry anatomy had come on the last day of class, “Chicken Day.”  On Chicken Day, Professor “Arvle the Marvel” Marshall divided us into groups and each group was assigned an organ system.  We had to make up a skit about our organ system and it was a big joke.  Nobody gave a rip about a chicken unless it was barbecued at a fraternity party.

The question was posted at the base of an articulated chicken skeleton.  “What gender is this bird?”  Hurt yourself thinking if you wish.  I got it right, but then I was the only student who could identify the bacculum of a raccoon when a dairy farmer hosting us for herd health lay it on the table and asked us what it was.

Next week, school starts again.  For better or worse, teachers are leaders who shape our lives even as they struggle to get through their workdays and their own lives.   Their classroom time is only part of their job.  There is lesson prep and there are forms to be filled out, bus duty and other hoops to be jumped through for the school system.  There are tests to be graded.  They give to their schools with pride, show up for ball games and open houses, encourage and inspire.  I feel that a single simple act of kindness and caring from a teacher may make the difference in a child’s life.

As Jack Holmes would teasingly say to us before the first day of school every year, “That old school bell’s gonna ring loud and long in the morning.”  I still run into people he inspired, from 6th grade at Enoree School to Laurens Primary to Ford or Sanders or Gray Court to the ball fields or boy scout camp.

What an amazing gift.

 

 

 

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Maiden Voyage

My son got his driver’s license yesterday.

I hadn’t realized how hard it would hit me until I left the office and stopped by the grocery store for a few things.  I ran into our pastor and I must’ve looked stricken, because he asked me if I’d had a hard day.  My thoughts came rushing out about my new driver and I knew he’d understand as his youngest daughter is my son’s age.

Coming home from the store, I crossed the creek, cruised up the hill past the chicken houses and met my son  in the road  by the neighbor’s dove field. He was alone, driving his big white-and-gold F-250 and he had the windows down with the breeze ruffling his hair. He stuck out his arm and gave me a big wave and a smile.

For this maiden voyage he drove back roads down to Mountville, where there is definitely no mountain…and no stores. There’s just a P.O., a church, an old school used as a meeting hall for the grange and a volunteer fire department.   The highway was moved years ago and it doesn’t even go through the settlement any more.

A hilly tar-and-gravel road named Ginger Creek  leads from our road down towards Mountville.  It winds past woods and farmland, crosses the creek and makes an inexplicable hairpin turn around an broad old white oak and passes beef cows grazing in knee-high fescue.  My son and my husband used to cruise this road together on our golf cart.  The route must’ve felt familiar, safe.

The boy took time enough, it seemed.  I imagined him with the stereo cranked on some country station,  stopping, caressing the dash, maybe setting a spell in the parking lot by the Mountville First Baptist,  texting his friends  and then moseying home–where I paced and looked out the windows, waiting somewhat restlessly for a cloud of dust.

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Editing the Bucket List

Nolan at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, 2011

I worked on my bucket list a little bit this morning.  Its changes over the past six or so years reflect little accomplishment and a lot of mellowing out.  The thing about a list, you see, is that it is ever changing.

  • See my son graduate; live long enough to be a grandmother
  • Go trekking in the Himalayas Mongolia!!!!  Sleep in a yurt, ride those little horses and drink fermented mare’s milk
  • Remember my father every single day of my life and appreciate my mother every single day.
  • Ride a horse across some Godforsaken Western landscape…alone Teach my son to ride a horse; he can fish, shoot, hunt and play guitar.  Learning to ride is the only essential life-skill I think he should have that he has yet to master.
  • Raft the Snake River in Idaho Finish rafting the rest of the Chattooga after almost drowning there last year.
  • Fly over Alaska in a tiny little plane and then set it down somewhere to hunt moose  I’d settle for killing a really big whitetail
  • See a black bear in the wild  (in South Carolina)
  • Bungee jump—Well I did a bungee tower, not quite as high as a bungee jump, but close
  • Take my son and husband to the Outer Banks.
  • Read all the classic (again) from Beowulf to Jayne Eyre to Silas Marner to The Sun Also Rises to The World According to Garp
  • Run a marathon Not so important anymore.  I do want to do more triathlons, maybe up to Olympic Distance.
  • See Hamlet in an off-off Broadway play or college theater group; See Godspell again
  • Learn to scuba dive What was I thinking!?!
  • Go to a cooking school
  • Catch a rattlesnake Accomplished May 2009.  Pin and pick up a venomous snake with my hands Accomplished May 2010.  Catch an alligator (again)
  • Visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras; have coffee and beignets at the Café du Monde
  • Hang my clothes on a clothesline again, on  a regular basis.
  • Work a humanitarian mission, mission trip or field research project in a Third World nation
  • Deliver a calf again
  • Go to a tent revival and really get in the Spirit
  • Go to the Super Bowl!
  • Nude beach?  No, private beach, nude
  • Remember hearing my grandmother giggle
  • Have a really great garden again ; freeze and can things for winter
  • Finally see an Ivory-billed woodpecker  Should I can this?  I’ve made two attempts already that did not go well!!??
  • Take my son to Disney World Accomplished April 2011
  • Go to an Irish Pub and close the thing down, singing too loud
  • Learn to do basic carpentry, and minor to moderate home repair—or learn to sew, which is basically carpentry with cloth
  • Attend La Tomitina, that tomato-throwing festival in Spain
  • Run the Peachtree Road Race again  Set to do this a week from tomorrow.  Pray that I finish!
  • Walk through a street market in a Third World Country and not worry about what (or who) I am eating
  • See a Jimmy Buffett concert again with friends and family
  • Go to the Kentucky Derby  wear an outrageous hat and drink mint juleps
  • Finally get one of my book manuscripts published; I have  five languishing in drawers
  • Spend a month in Mexico, immersion-learning the language
  • Tour Switzerland with my mother (her ancestors came from there) Not looking too likely; her health is not great
  • Take my family on a tour of the American West—Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone.   I hear the Grand Canyon is nice.
  • A day at work where EVERYTHING goes right
  • Watch or re-watch all the movies that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Well, maybe not all of them; gotta figure some are boring.
  • And my ultimate:  hitch-hike, take a train, walk, ride a horse, sail, etc, etc, from here to Tierra del Fuego Paddle my kayak across the Okefenokee Swamp and ride my bicycle back (accomplishing my first “Century” on the bike and so much more!)

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Revisiting the List

Yesterday I was flummoxed by a simple question from a friend, “What’s on your bucket list?”

As a strange coincidence, I had  run across a hard copy of my list only two days before.  I glanced at it and realized with amusement that I had accomplished a couple of the things on the list.  I can check those babies off now.

But when the question was put to me, I drew a complete and total blank.  What exactly was on my list?  I couldn’t remember a blasted thing!  I struggled to remember, uh, maybe run a marathon, and, uh, maybe, uh raft the Chattooga?  And maybe bungee jumping was on it, but never skydiving?  I couldn’t even remember the things I had noted that I could check off.

Midlife is a strange time.

You are struggling to stay young and you know you are losing the battle day by day.  Your priorities change, and you wish you weren’t mellowing out quite so much.  It was plumb unsettling to know that I couldn’t even remember the things that seemed important to me only five or so years ago.   And it should be eye-opening to re-do the list and even comment on the previous list.

Here, for posterity’s sake, is my list from 2005 or ’06.   It is reprinted from Tidbits, The Best Little Paper Ever:

At Huntington Beach State Park a few weeks ago, I added another bird to my life list.  Birders, you see, keep a list of all the birds they’ve seen and identified in their lives.  They are meticulous about keeping this life list, and the Peterson Field Guide series conveniently provides a checklist in the field guide.  Though I always thought I’d eventually see a male painted bunting, it was anticlimactic when I unexpectedly encountered two of the most colorful birds on the continent visiting a feeder there at the state park.

This much anticipated sighting reminded me of another list I made, one made several years ago when I had an unexpected scare from a medical test.  Fearful that my test results would be bad, I made a list of all the things I wish I could do before I die.

Some of these things are poignant, almost sad.  Some are way out of reach.  Some are doable.  And some are mundane.

Here’s just part of my list:

  • See my son graduate
  • Go trekking in the Himalayas
  • Remember my father every single day of my life and appreciate my mother every single day.
  • Ride a horse across some Godforsaken Western landscape…alone
  • Raft the Snake River in Idaho
  • Fly over Alaska in a tiny little plane and then set it down somewhere to hunt moose
  • See a black bear in the wild
  • Read all the classic (again) from Beowulf to Jayne Eyre to Silas Marner to The Sun Also Rises to The World According to Garp
  • Run a marathon
  • See Hamlet in an off-off Broadway play or college theater group
  • Learn to scuba dive
  • Go to a cooking school
  • Visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras; have coffee and beignets at the Café du Monde
  • Work a humanitarian mission, mission trip or field research project in a Third World nation
  • Go to the Super Bowl!
  • Remember hearing my grandmother giggle
  • Finally see an Ivory-billed woodpecker
  • Take my son to Disney World
  • Go to an Irish Pub and close the thing down, singing too loud
  • Attend La Tomitina, that tomato-throwing festival in Spain
  • Run the Peachtree Road Race again
  • Walk through a street market in a Third World Country and not worry about what (or who) I am eating
  • Go to the Kentucky Derby
  • Spend a month in Mexico, immersion-learning the language
  • Tour Switzerland with my mother (her ancestors came from there)
  • Take my family on a tour of the American West
  • A day at work where EVERYTHING goes right
  • Watch or re-watch all the movies that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards
  • And my ultimate:  hitch-hike, take a train, walk, ride a horse, sail, etc, etc, from here to Tierra del Fuego

I’m proud to report that recently I checked off another of my life’s “to do list,” I swam-biked-ran my way to finish the Greenville Triathlon.

Do you have a life list?

Some things are for dreaming; some things are for doing.  But one thing’s for sure, life is as much of an adventure as you choose to make it.


“Learn to scuba dive?”  What the heck was I thinking? I don’t recall ever pondering it.  Snorkeling was fun, but scuba? Whassup with that?  And why wasn’t bungee jumping on the list?  And now we can trash can the trip from here to Tierra del Fuego.  What I want to do now is kayak solo across the Okefenokee Swamp and cycle back.  And the ivory-billed woodpecker, hmm, after one failed attempt at seeking them in Arkansas and one poor attempt in Florida, that one might have to go bye-bye, too.

We accomplished Disney two months ago and God willing, the Peachtree will be in the can on July 4, only two weeks away.

Looks like I need to re-do the list.  Stay tuned for an update.

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We might be rednecks…ya think?

Yes, I might be one.

After 25 years of working most Saturdays, I’m enjoying having a Saturday off every now and then these days.   This morning I had in mind getting a pedicure and manicure and settling in to convert locally grown organic pears into jars of golden jam. 

My 14 year old son had other ideas. 

“Take me to Academy Sports,” he begged.  After about 45 minutes of running out of excuses as to why I didn’t want to take him, I turned his request to my advantage. 

“Take your laundry out of the drier, fold it and put it away,” I said.  “Pick up all of your clothes up off the bathroom floor and put them in the laundry sorter.  Start a load of laundry.  And I’ll take you to Academy Sports.” 

It’s about 45 – 50 miles from our house to Greenville.  We arrived just in time for an early lunch.  I’m convinced that 80% of our family income goes to feeding this boy.  We went to Red Robin where we ate until we both acknowledged that we wanted to puke. 

From there we battled traffic down Woodruff Road to Academy Sports.  For a short period of time, we dithered around together along the main aisles, then he left me to go shop for bullets for his deer rifle.   I looked at meat-processing equipment, dog items and folding lawn chairs.  He and I rendezvoused in the backpack aisle. 

We drifted past deer stands and trail cameras and into my personal favorite section–deer lures, where I tend to get a little carried away.  For a change, selection and prices were good.  Often I shop too early and they don’t have the good stuff in yet.  Or I wait too late and the good stuff is picked over. 

We discussed a few choices and I started grabbing things.  Pretty soon I had to send him for a shopping basket.  I bought 3-packs of scent wick dispensers–the kind with a felt wick and a handle that easily hang from a branch.  They’re bright orange and easy to retrieve when he you get down from the stand.

I picked up a spray bottle, economy-sized, of a scent eliminator spray. 

And, oh, the deer pee!

I bought doe urine and a nifty three pack that includes plain doe urine, doe-in-heat urine and, yes a bottle of buck urine.  Great products by my current favorite Code Blue and at a very fine price.  The lad and I briefly discussed purchasing a pack of preloaded Tink’s 69 scent dispensers but I balked when I saw that they had to be actived by a chemical heat pack and only lasted for four hours.   

The fun part, really, was the check-out line.  All the lines were long.  We were lucky to be behind a family who, hmm, maybe don’t get to town very often. 

The matriarch went nuts over a little display of crazy bands right by the checkout counter. 

The boy and I made eye contact and shared a very faint smile when she began to squeal with delight over them.  I think I’m short, but the lady was about 4″9″, with a long, black and chemically damaged hair.  She had an odd facial structure, a speech impediment and  few teeth.  And she wore a tee shirt that said “Trailer Park Chihuahua.”  It featured some dandy-looking singlewides, two badass chihuahuas and Confederate flags, plus the slogan “the South”s gonna rise again.” 

While she and her family ripped through the silly bands (“Look!!! They got all kinds!”) behind us, the daddy in front mumbled something to the effect of “Y’all better get up here ‘fore I haveta pay or you’re gonna be SOL.”

Meanwhile another lady in line wearing her Clemson Tigers game day orange was getting pretty spun up by the lighters shaped like little fishing rods and deer rifles. 

“Look!”  she hollered to her friend in another checkout line.  “It’s a lighter made like a fishing rod!” 

“How much is it?”

“Ten dollars.”

“We better wait til closer to Christmas.”

The lad and I shared another slight smile and I whispered, “These people obviously don’t get out very much and are excited by the colorful trinkets.” 

And I thought we lived in isolation.

The gnomelike woman and her five to seven kids continued to paw through the silly bands and the lady in front of me was still mesmerized by the lighters.  “Hey,” she called to her friend again, “The one shaped like a football is only eight dollars.”

All of the sudden a scream ripped the air from a line off to our right.  Startled, I started to grab my son and hit the floor.   I have a healthy paranoia of being stuck  in line somewhere during a holdup.  

But the two Hispanic guys standing by the screaming woman started laughing and the woman started loud, fast talking in Spanish, and she was beating both guys with her fists. 

“That line over there is moving faster,” my son said.

“Yeah, but this one is way more fun.” I countered.  The woman was still cursing those guys when we finally made it through the checkout counter.

We live in a rural area, a bit off the beaten path.  At times I am inclined to believe that everyone I meet lives in a trashy home and either cooks meth or makes moonshine in the shed out back.   But today, in metropolitan Greenville, I felt rather…sophisticated. 

Until I got home and got out of the car. 

 “Hey, boy,” I yelled to my son, “don’t you leave that pee in the hot car.”

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A Wednesday in September

"The River of Muscadines"

Enoree River -- the river of muscadines

Wednesday promised to be an aggravating day for me.  The afternoon schedule include my annual eye exam and then a dental appointment.  I knew that before it was over, my pupils would be dilated, blurring my vision and increasing my sensitivity to light for several hours.  And I knew that my mouth would be numbed and drilled on. 

Simply, ugh.

Yet it was warm (not hot!), sunny and calm, a glorious September morning.  I decided to go to the river. 

My family’s ancestral stomping grounds–both the paternal and maternal sides–run along the Enoree River from the vicinity of Youngs community down through Enoree and Lanford Station, ending up near Cross Anchor and Horseshoe Falls.  Sometimes it calls to me like a siren’s song.

I went to the falls first and had them all to myself.  Wearing a skirt and flip flops, I walked the path down to the creek, ditched the flops and waded into the water.  Minnows scattered before me  in the clear water around my feet.  I hitched my skirt up around my thighs with my left hand and balanced the camera and truck keys in my right and photographed the falls from several angles. 

Horseshoe Falls

Images played in my mind–flickering, jerky home movies of my mama and daddy.  Mama with a picnic spread on a quilt, the Skotch cooler full of sandwiches and cold drinks.  My little brother Joey, maybe a year old,  playing on the rocks.  Jeff, also still a toddler, standing still for once, mesmerized while my daddy took a stick and dipped up a water snake that he had just killed with his pistol.  The snake was limp and kept sliding off into the water.  Daddy, young and slim,  had his pistol in one hand and the stick in the other. 

Next I drove down the road to the Enoree.  In childhood, this short drive was sullied by litter, a dumping grounds for household garbage, old television sets with shattered picture tubes, cans and broken bottles.  Now it is prisine.  There is a small but tidy parking area with a sign that marks the way to put in kayaks and that gives a brief history of the area’s Revolutionary War significance. 

Again, I waded into the river, clear water rushing under my feet.  My  eyes are peeled for snakes and, unlike my daddy, I am not packing a revolver.  Just my camera.  Snakes, I  love ’em. 

Purple Muscadines

After this I made a quick trip up I-26 to the farm store at Live Oak Farms, where I purchased an organic blue corn taco kit, a pound of butter made locally from Upstate cows and a hunk of local white cheddar with green olives in it.  I enquired about muscadines for my jelly-making enterprise.  She didn’t have any, but soon I was on my way to a small farm between Cross Anchor and Pauline where the owner and I picked three gallons in 15 minutes working in the warm September sunshine, careful around a host of lazy bumblebees.

That night, with the whole left side of my face numb and my eyes dialated, I made bronze scuppernong jelly, gloriously golden. 

When all is said and done, I will have made bronze scuppernong and purple muscadine jelly, peach and pear jam, all from fruit grown within a 30 mile radius of my home.  Why go to all the trouble when I can buy all the jam and jelly I want from the supermarket?   Like my trip to the river, it connects me to the earth, to family, to my past and that of my ancestors.

Purple Muscadine and Bronze Scuppernong Jelly

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Rush Hour…and then some. Atlanta adventure.

Consider that you are dropped into one of the busiest cities in the USA at rush hour on a Friday night.

You are suddenly teleported into an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar city…and expected to follow an ambulance carrying your spouse to a hospital you’ve never even heard of.  Whoops.  With an anxious teenager riding shotgun.

That happened to me last weekend. 

Barreling down I-85 just across the state line into Georgia, my husband suddenly slammed on brakes and jerked the wheel to the side, landing us about where an on-ramp entered the interstate.  Nonplussed, I simply figured there was a blue light flashing behind us.

Wrong.

Mr. B had suddenly become very dizzy and lost most of his vision.  “You’re going to have to drive,” he said.

I schlepped us down to the next exit where I pulled over and checked his blood sugar.  170.  Certainly not contributing to his dizziness.  My son got out and helped him try to walk it off.   It didn’t work.  A recently diagnosed early diabetic on blood pressure medicine, Mr. B had left his blood pressure cuff at home. 

We decided to motor on, with me at the helm of his F-150 pickup truck, dizzied myself by the array of controls.  I had driven this truck exactly twice on very rural South Carolina roads.  I didn’t even know were the door locks and window locks and seat adjustment buttons were, much less how to work the navigation system and cruise control, yet I was in command of this beast of a truck at 75 to 80 mph for the next hour and a half. 

Some of it was bumper to bumper stop-and-go traffic, some was easy cruising.  And some was rush hour in Atlanta.  All the while checking every few minutes to see if my Mr. B was still breathing.  His eyes were closed and he was uncharacteristically silent, responsive but barely.  I tried to stay calm for the lad beside me.

There are a few cliches about Atlanta.  One is the old joke that when you die, you have to be routed through Hartsfield on the way to the pearly gates.   The other is that if your middle finger is disabled, you can’t drive in Atlanta.  Both are pretty close to true. 

With the help–or hindrance–of the navigation system, I muddled my way to the Omni at the CNN Center  in downtown. 

I consider myself a pretty sophisticated person.  I’ve been a good many places by plane, train and automobile.  Driven in most of them and am competent at checking in and out of hotels, motels, country inns and B&B’s.  Ditto for campgrounds and, yes, even yurt villages.   But this downtown hotel confounded me.  Parking valets and bellmen descended on us like ants at a picnic.  I had no time to decide which bags we would take in and which we would leave in the truck.

We had coolers of drinks and snacks, a shotgun and a case of shells, two laptops, grocery bags of sugarless snacks and our raggedy assortment of what might loosely be called luggage.  I felt like we were the hillbillies arriving in Beverly Hills. 

Somehow we managed to get Mr. B up to our room and receive our luggage from the bellman.  Whereupon he tried to walk and fell down and said, “I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to take me somewhere.”

Yep.

I tried to call the concierge desk and the damn phone didn’t work.  “Excuse me,” I said, coolly, like I did this every day, “I’ll just go down there and talk to someone.”

Things came unhinged from there.  Our concierge said protocol dictated that she would have to call security and 9-1-1.  Then she quickly, diplomatically and calmly accompanied me to room 415.  We got there before security and my husband was still out flat on the bed, eyes closed, poorly responsive. 

While we waited for the paramedics, the phone maintenance guy drifted in and in broken English explained that he would have to come back later and reprogram the phone.  We paced and waited…and waited…and waited for the EMS to arrive, with me fretting, thinking, I’m glad he’s not having a heart attack.  Truth be told, I didn’t know what was happening to him.  Recently he has lost weight because of the diabetes, and this has helped his blood pressure, but I feared a stroke.  And time is critical with those.

The paramedics arrived after twenty minutes.  Given the traffic, I could understand that, but it did little to instill confidence in having him get the help he needed.

They assessed him and advised that they transport him to a hospital.  I was given two choices, and considering what I’d heard about one of them, hoped that I’d chosen wisely.  Things moved very quickly from there.  While one EMT set an IV, the other tried to give me directions to the hospital.  Uh, slower, I’m trying to type this into my cell phone.  The next thing I knew, he had an oxygen nose piece on and was strapped to a gurney and being loaded into an ambulance.

An ambulance that I was going to have to follow through downtown Atlanta at 5:30 pm on a Friday…in a truck that I was just learning to drive. 

We made it.  I ran a couple of yellow lights, got separated from the ambulance once but never lost sight of it.  I even managed to thread the big 4WD pickup into a parking garage at the hospital with just a few inches to spare and my son coming unglued, yelling “Don’t scratch his truck!  You’re gonna scratch his truck!”

Less than an hour and a half later, he was treated and released, the diagnosis being vertigo.  Relieved, I navigated to a Walgreen’s with excellent directions from the nurse and got his prescription filled.  We made it back to the Omni and somehow led him to the room.

He stayed in the room for two days, wobbly and nearly blind, before beginning to toddle out a bit.  A little over a week later, he is gradually feeling more and more normal.

Gimme a truck, any truck, and I guarantee that I can drive it anywhere under battlefield conditions.

And the irony?  His physician was in the same place as we were..at the same time as we were running around like chickens with heads cut off…and we didn’t know it.

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