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southern (hemisphere) stories
Grandpa was not a storyteller. It was only later, when Grandma wasn’t around, that he told me a few stories about his life and parents. He never talked about the hard times during the Great Depression, but he said enough to encourage me in later life to research his family history. When he died all of Grandma’s and Grandpa’s personal things, letters and photographs were given to my older cousin because she was the only granddaughter.
revenge of the grown ups
It is a fact that if you’re a kid growing up in America in the Fifties and Sixties, the last day of school is better than Christmas!
You’re free, unfettered and unchained. Nothing but blue skies ahead …at least for three months, which is ‘till eternity’ in the Kid Standard Time.
For the next three glorious months, you’re not required to study, sit still, do homework, do book reports, memorize, read, recite, remember or do anything remotely enlightening…
with heavy hearts
“Well, then, ask me your questions. I won’t be around forever.”
That’s what Floyd told me a few years ago when I said that just when we get old enough to ask the right questions of our parents and grandparents, they’re all gone. Floyd was true to his word and did not last forever. He is now gone, six months short of his one-hundredth birthday. I was assured he died without pain and without lingering more than just a few days.
easier than it looks
Americans anticipating a British driving vacation face two problems: driving on the “wrong” (left) side of the road… and British roundabouts. Britain has more roundabouts as a proportion of roads than any other country. Many get confused at negotiating the roundabout, while driving in a left-side steering car gets a little more comfortable after a while.
Americans vacationing in France face only the roundabout problem, as the French drive on the “right” side of the road. Yet there are more roundabouts in France (30,000 as of 2008) than in any other nation.
widening my american horizons
For ten years I’ve lived in the Shenandoah Valley, enjoying it so much that when my son whom I came from England to live near, moved to Kansas, I chose to stay here. I’m keenly aware of this vast beautiful country extending from Virginia to California (twice visited) in the west and Montana in the north and I’ve another son and family in Arizona, but there are so many places in America I yearn to explore. When I told Virginian friends “I’m going on holiday to Kansas,” they mostly said “Huh.” I think it’s something to do with the fact that Kansas hasn’t got mountains.
mostly white history
It is often said, “history is written by the victors.” I’ve found that not to be quite true in my research – at least not in the American South. Since the invention of the printing press, history has been based mostly on what the people who got themselves noticed by newspapers and had both the inclination and time to preserve their clippings in the archives historians are wont to peruse. In other words, historians ending up with a biased perspective is not entirely their fault. They work with what they’ve got.
Paul Simon wrote that line. It fits the paralyzing disequilibrium that took me over as I was handed a game-changing diagnosis of tonsil cancer. I wrote the following note on the subway home for the worst case scenario. Fortunately it has proved, like reports of Twain’s death, to be premature.
This is that maudlin letter you dread from someone who believes you would actually maybe like to have a farewell note: If you get this I have navigated a dark corridor descended slippery stairs to black water’s edge stepped into and pushed off waiting skiff into infinite night.
satire from the darkside
Walmart, swashbuckling privateer of American commerce, is casting its grappling hooks at the lucrative, always in demand, funeral industry. Is anybody surprised?
According to Wily Ebeneezer, Walmart Director of Roughshod Practices, the mercantile behemoth’s version of Area 51 in Rigor Mortis Springs, Arkansas, has developed discount funerals for their thrifty-minded customers. (And ain’t they all?)
We left the Tempelhof Airport in the American Sector late in the morning for a last look at West Berlin. The old Kombi van rattled along towards Potsdamer Platz and the British Sector. There was little traffic, only the occasional military patrol. While looking for a street that would take us to Potsdamer Platz, without entering the Soviet Zone, we saw the ruins of a large building surrounded by rubble overgrown with grass…
“Everywhere I go I see an American flag. I don’t understand that. You hardly ever see a British flag flying anyplace in the UK.”
That from a member of my writers group, a transplanted Brit, in this country now for ten years or so. Sorry to say, it took my aging brain a few hours to compose a response. But now I have and here it is: We Americans are proud of our flag…
a clark & poland special
Robert Clark and I were on the road running down a story, a story about land, a farmhouse, and tomatoes, a story of war, old ways, and survivors of sorts. On a hot, humid July morning we abandoned I-20 for Longs Pond Road and after a back road or two arrived at a farmhouse near the community of Boiling Springs. Two big blackjack oaks stood out front. Out back, a handsome, clapboard smokehouse looked lonely, its fellow outbuildings long-fallen comrades…
e. l. doctorow
“There was nothing more to be said on the subject of the future and their different destinies, for those words, uttered with complete calm and conviction, had done what every inspired melody does: condense a welter of emotions into an unconflicted clarity that one can instantly recall and call upon. Like a hierogram.”—Kris Saknussemm, Enigmatic Pilot
As I anticipate this year’s upcoming Virginia Writers Symposium in Charlottesville, I was stopped the other day when I read of the passing of E. L. Doctorow, to me a sacred symbol of a writer who had mastered his craft and had so much to teach all the rest of us who marveled at his creativity and innovative ways…
not eatin’ that
No one in his right damn mind pays “you’ve gotta be kiddin’ me” prices to see a movie — even if it is an advance showing of a major motion picture. I’m willing today because this little excursion is part of my scheme to throw some serious ‘shade’ –- and some serious ‘cool’ –on a despicably hot summer day. I’ve come to the mall multiplex to match wits with Tom Cruise, to see if I can keep up with the on-screen goings-on in the latest installment of Mission Impossible.
Just within the mall, but outside the cinema, the conditioned air smells of popcorn and pastry. ‘Hot buttered’ emanates from the theatre; ‘Eau de Cinnabon’ oozes from the adjacent food court…
a loving tribute
At the beginning of 1997 I bought a new car. It was modest in price and style, but automatic and practical for a woman living in London. It was easy to park, small enough to fit in the narrowest spaces and comfortable to drive: a navy blue Daihatsu Charade that would not attract thieves or envy. I got it at a bargain price because one of my sons worked for a dealership. It was zippy in traffic, when traffic allowed. British roads are narrower and more congested than American ones, this small island being packed with a population of 63 million. It was economic in fuel consumption and cost of insurance…
Many people say that English is the hardest language to understand because so many words can mean different things and we often need a sentence to explain one word in another language. For example, in the US it is quite common for people to publicly “root for the team.” In other English-speaking countries if you are caught doing that you will be arrested. In Australia to call someone “an old bastard” is a term of endearment.
state tax credits at work
If you have noticed your TV smelling a little mildewy lately, or have found tendrils of Spanish moss clogging your TiVo, there is a perfectly good reason – the basic cable producers have discovered the Louisiana swamps; and like the Nazis who invaded Poland, they are not going to settle for just one kielbasa. Even though there is an old saying that if you’ve seen one alligator, you’ve seen them all, evidently Hollywood TV producers can tell the difference; granted, they are experts at dealing with thick-skinned carnivores after their experiences with the Kardashians…
In case you’re emerging from a coma over the last couple of months and somehow missed the change, it’s the tourist season again. The signs are everywhere – but, alas, mostly here at the beach. Gone are the days, for a while at least, when I could walk on the beach with my dog ’Dro (short for Pedro) and meet up with no one but myself. Good place for doing that. The late, great Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote memorably that on a back road in Georgia at night, you could ask yourself a question and get an honest answer.
we could do worse
We’ve been down to two cats now, Sophie and Dolly, for over two years. The last two lads, Tucker and Sneezer, took their leave a couple of summers ago, one otherwise healthy gentleman on the operating table to have his teeth cleaned and the other a poor devil who had suffered far too long from a debilitating disease. Now we have two aging dowagers who think they’re still debutantes. They barely tolerate one another, however, and share a porch space during the day as though they’re on opposite sides negotiating a treaty with Iran. Feline peace is not easy to maintain.
could happen to anyone
Back during WWII, there was a manpower shortage in the east Alabama cotton mills, and my Grandfather, Jim Strickland, sold his backwoods Randolph County farm, and moved to the Chattahoochee Valley still seeking his fortune. Even at his advanced age, and with failing health, he easily found a job as an armed guard, watching the truck gate at Fairfax Mill.
Whether the nation’s Intelligence Services had uncovered an Axis plot to destroy Alabama cotton mills, I couldn’t say…
Anxious to try out my new East German camera, bought in West Berlin, we drove to Kurfurstendamm to photograph the ruins of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtnis-Kirke and then to the Brandenburg Gate. About 200 yards west of the Brandenburg Gate, and near the Reichstag in the British Sector, the Soviets had built a memorial to the Soviet soldiers killed in the Battle of Berlin. In 1959, the memorial was guarded 24 hours/day by Soviet soldiers who marched into the British Sector through the Brandenburg Gate…
growin' up southern
When I was eight years old, about the same year, more or less, that the mule stepped on my toes, we went to visit my country kinfolk up in west Randolph County at Christmas. Some of them lived sho’ ’nuff in the sticks, if that is not a redundancy.
One of my mother’s cousins lived near the Tallapoosa River, down a narrow, rutted dirt road, in the deep woods, in an old unpainted house, not much more than a cabin. It didn’t have a porch, or running water or electricity. She had five kids. There was another cramped hovel within yards of that dwelling…
hide the dang cannon
With fireworks legal in Athens on the recent anniversary of our nation’s independence, I saw more flashes and fiery cascades over the Classic City than I could ever remember. The rise of Old Epps Bridge Road was a perfect vantage point. Every few seconds, the sky lit up in a different direction. It got me thinking about my history with pyrotechnics. The word “fireworks” for me evokes memories of Christmas, not the 4th of July. I have no recollection of lighting firecrackers or shooting off Roman candles in the middle of summer. Maybe it was just too hot in July in south Mississippi. I don’t recall my hometown, Laurel, ever having a big fireworks-in-park event, either.
its love of life
As I continue to read through James Joyce’s collection of short stories called “Dubliners,” I look at various old black and white photos of the city as it was published well over a century ago. I’ve also been guided by Mark O’Connell who wrote an article for “Slate” magazine in May 2014 entitled, “Have I Ever Left It?” to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of its publication.
I’ve never been to Dublin, but look forward one day soon to walking about, taking in the city that Joyce described.
fire the bums
It’s funny what makes you change your mind.
All these years I have been against term limits for elected officials. My reason: having old-timers around who knew the ropes made our government better by their insights. But one incident recently made me change my mind on the subject. Now I feel comfortable for being positive on limiting public officials’ terms of office.
Until recently, there were other reasons I had been against limiting the time a public official could serve. First, there is an automatic term limit, that is, an election every few years, with the voters deciding whether to keep (or limit) the public servants in office. Yes, it’s an unofficial limit.
east and west
My first visit to Berlin was encouraged and arranged by a former RAF Bomber Command pilot, Pathfinder and Master Bomber who flew more than 100 operational missions over Germany in World War II. Group Captain Peter Cribb, CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar was Commanding Officer of RAF Gutersloh in the B Zone of West Germany when we met, in Italy, and he invited us to visit the air base. Gutersloh, a RAF fighter and photo reconnaissance base near Hanover, was the nearest air base to the “wire” between West and East Germany…
Hillsborough, NC Could Have Been Talladega. It makes for a good story. Back in the early 1950s men in Hillsborough, North Carolina, could see stockcar races for free. Why buy a ticket when you had a free seat in the air. All they had to do was shimmy up a tree edging a fence at the second turn and they had a grand view of the .9-mile dirt oval. That plan carried a bit of risk but all was fine as long as the drivers didn’t spin out. Then the inevitable happened.
reminder of racist present
While it’s good news that South Carolina has finally taken down the single Confederate Battle Flag that has flown on the state capitol grounds since 2000 (and over the state capitol itself for thirty-nine years before that), it would be better news if the flag of the Confederacy itself were removed from the Georgia state flag.
Beginning in 1879, when a state senator and former Confederate officer introduced legislation that included the design of the first official state flag, Georgia has had seven different state flags, each one bearing one or more graphic reminders of Confederate national banners.
Worthy of Comment
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