Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Face Of Erasmus

When I tell these stories, there will be times when I will not name all the names or tell all the details.  I'm sorry if this offends.   My objective is to illuminate a time, cause a smile, sometimes a tear, not to stretch the reputation of anyone who was probably too young to be held responsible for what they did anyway.  If you know the names of any of the people in this story who are not named, please keep it to yourself.

I love my old school.  My experience there didn't end the way anyone thought it would, but I loved my time there and the people who travailed and matriculated with me and especially the poor souls who taught us, fed us, coached us, and sat with us while we waited to see the principal.  

St. Andrews aimed to provide small-classroom instruction on a classical liberal arts method, offering advanced education as far as the student could stretch.  Early on, they provided special attention to students with communication and reading issues like mine, long before the public or other private schools did.  For an example of how advanced, in our ninth-grade literature class, we were taught Beowulf (both translated and untranslated) and Candide (translated) and the historical placement and environment of each.  We were one of the first high schools in the state to offer Advance Placement courses, although my learning disability meant I wasn't ever a candidate for them.

Trying to do all these things in the 1970s in Jackson, Mississippi, wasn't without challenges.  There were cultural sea changes happening in every area of life, in many ways equal to those after the Civil War.  Some have called the years between 1960 and 1980 our Second Civil War.  

At its heart, St. Andrews was a parochial school, and as such, its board generally appointed Episcopal Priests as our headmasters.  There was a steady stream of fathers such and such leading us, and nobody ever really thought much of it until one day, a student in our newly created high school was arrested for selling drugs, to wit, marijuana.  Not enough to get him sent to Parchman or the Raymond School for Boys, but enough to cause a tailspin in the adult community guiding St. Andrews.  Our priestly headmaster was replaced by a layperson who himself was almost immediately released two years later, and the school's dean, also a layperson, was assigned as Acting Headmaster while the board searched for a permanent headmaster.   

There were adventures in those years waiting for a new headmaster that I've written about before.  At the time, I thought we were fairly well-behaved and normal kids until one day, the board was to present us with a gentleman who we understood was seriously being considered as our new headmaster.  In his address to us in the courtyard of the second upper school building, this new man said to us something I'll never forget.  

"It's my understanding that you have a problem with drunken degenerates." 

Others would, in time, call me both drunken and degenerate, but at fifteen, nobody ever had before.  We all thought there was no way this guy would get the job after being so rude to us upon our first meeting.  He didn't even know our names yet.  We were wrong.  Come the next fall, David Hicks was our new headmaster.  Apparently, there were members of the board who agreed with his assessment of us and thought he was the perfect solution to changing our wanton and degenerate ways.

Before school even began, several boys were expelled.  They were expelled before they even met the new headmaster.  I'm not even sure how this process happened.  Were they given a hearing?  Was there testimony brought against them?  I really don't know.  What I do know is that if he was seeking to cut off the source of the drug and alcohol problems at St. Andrews, he picked the wrong guys.  The boys he expelled were no saints, but they also weren't the source of the problem.  He also hadn't yet proven (to me, at least) that we had a drug and alcohol problem that was different from any other private or public school in Jackson.    

Once Hicks was installed as our headmaster, several boys were given the choice to either be expelled summarily or attend an experimental drug rehabilitation program in Atlanta.  This was not too many years after Betty Ford had made international news for receiving rehabilitation for her alcoholism; dependency programs were still pretty rare.  Again, if Hicks was trying to attack the problem at its source, he was picking the wrong boys.   These boys were troubled, for sure, but they were hardly the cause of the problem that I wasn't even entirely sure we had.

At sixteen, I decided it was up to me to try and talk Hicks out of this course of action for the good of the school.  I began regularly meeting with him to discuss these matters.  While he never refused my meetings, he was clearly getting irritated by them.  Our relationship began to become adversarial.  The more his actions troubled my classmates, the more I was compelled to confront him about it, and the more irritated he became with me.  By Christmas, we were clearly adversaries.  I've written before about how that didn't end well for me.

Small and large acts of protest began to spring up.  A newspaper was formed.  We were allowed one printing before getting shut down.  Whispers, coughs, and dress code violations became common.  The teacher's lounge mysteriously burst into flames one night.  The war between David Hicks and the students continued.  It became clear that there was an income threshold beyond which Hicks would not question any of your actions, but should your parents not earn enough--boy, were you in trouble.

One morning, we came to school, and the greatest act of protest I'd ever witnessed was revealed.  I won't say who did it, but I know it was two people, and the fact that two people had done all this in the middle of the night, by themselves, without getting caught, amazes me even today.

Every flat surface on the upper school held some level of spray paint.  I've used Krylon spray paints many times.  I know how far a single can will spread.  The culprits must have purchased a case

Most of the school's faculty, staff, and administration were much loved by us all and were spared any comment by our midnight sign painters.  But, those few who were considered traitors to the cause found themselves immortalized and pilloried by teenage wit, presented in letters large enough to be painted by a spray can, all over the upper school walls along with David Hicks.  Every upper school wall.

During this year of our discontent, a phrase had sprung up.  Every student from the fifth grade on up knew it.  It was scribbled on desks and book covers and shouted from cars.  Someone even wrote it in ballpoint pen on the back of my blue jean jacket while I piddled in my sketchbook on the bleachers one sunny afternoon.  Hix Sux.  It became our war cry.  The heroes of our story, on their midnight run of protest and spray paint saved the large brick wall to the right of the gated entrance into the upper school building for the last.  There, in letters several inches thick and seven feet tall, they painted:


I'm not even sure how they did it.  Maybe they brought a ladder with them.  Somehow they painted what we were all thinking as a two-story protest sign on unsealed bricks for us all to see when we came to school the next morning.

By the time I got to school, Jessie and the other janitorial staff were already at work trying to wipe away the graffiti that was literally everywhere.  By the end of the school day, our three janitors and one coach had either scrubbed away or painted over all the evidence of our midnight revolutionaries, all but one.  Remember the unsealed bricks I mentioned before?  Attempts to scrub the paint away from the surface of the bricks just drove the paint deeper into the grain of the brick.  HIX SUX was slightly dimmer now but wider and still very, very visible from the lower school playground.  Several chemicals were tried, and none worked.  St. Andrews closed out my tenth-grade year, my last year, with HIX SUX still quite visible on the upper school wall in two-story letters.  

Over the summer, the decision was made to paint over the offending remark with the same paint used on the metal gates.  Now we had a giant, windowless wall painted flat gray.  Hicks entertained suggestions, which included painting a large mural.  The students were consulted about what the subject of the mural should be and given several suggestions.  I wasn't there, but it's my understanding that Erasmus, who I had never heard of, was chosen democratically to be the subject of the mural.  The school's art teacher, Mrs. Mitchell, suggested Lawrence Jones, a former professor at Jackson State, to head the project, which he completed using students from her class. 

Forty years later, the painting of Erasmus still presents on the wall of the now primary school building, but its history was seemingly lost in time.  Underneath the philosopher's intractable visage remains evidence of a sixteen-year-old revolutionary fighting for the honor of his friends who were called degenerate.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

 You've probably heard about a lot of Southern chefs; most were from New Orleans, and some were from Savannah, but the biggest innovator among Southern chefs and the one with the longest shadow was Bill Neal.   Neal elevated the status of Southern food that wasn't from Galatoire's or Commander's Palace to the rare air Southern food appreciates today and makes places like Dooky Chase's and Elvie's eligible for consideration for Beard Awards.  (One day, I'll tell you the story of who James Beard was and why he was important.)

Of all the dishes Neal cooked and all the dishes Neal wrote about, none were as famous or as far influencing as Shrimp and Grits.  Like most of Neal's recipes, shrimp and grits find its origins in the Afro-Caribbean influence of the Tidewater region and feature two of the Southland's most famous ingredients, shrimp and grits.

For Southern chefs of a certain generation, Shrimp and Grits is a dish they simply must get right or not offer at all.  Damien Cavicchi, formerly from the Country Club of Jackson and now the much-talked-about new owner of Hal and Mals and Campbell's bakery, is a chef, I'm convinced, will at some point be a Beard nominated chef, if not a Beard award winning chef.  

The menu at Hal and Mals is iconic and delicious, but it's also almost forty years old.  Chef Cavicchi is tasked with the considerable challenge of updating the menu, making it his own, but also keeping the flavors and experiences Hal and Mals is known for.  

One of the dishes he added to the menu, to accomplish these goals, was Shrimp and Grits.  Hal and Mals is famous for Southern staple food, and Shrimp and Grits is a perfect match for that.  It's not an elevated, gold-rimmed plate version of the dish you get at some places, like City Grocery (which is fantastic) but maintains the Hal and Mals blue plate, meat, and three level of cooking, while seriously raising the stakes with the flavor.

Shrimp and grits are three elements that must balance and must be right.  Plump gulf shrimp, which are more difficult to cook correctly than most people realize, creamy and flavorful grits, cheese, and garlic are preferred, and perhaps the most important element, the sauce.  Cheft Cavicchi nails all three, especially the sauce, and he does it with hearty portions that you could easily share with a sweetheart if you wanted to pair with their famous gumbo or seafood bisque.  

If you think you've eaten at Hal and Mal's a million times, and it offers you no new experiences, you're wrong.  There's a new chef in town, and he's bringing it on home while keeping the favorites you've come for, for the last forty years.  

The downtown renaissance is happening, and a vibrant young chef at an established classic location can't help but anchor the effort.  There are several other exciting elements of the new Hal and Mal's menu, but the Shrimp and Grits is my favorite.

Dogwoods and Turkeys

 A faint Mississippi dogwood blooms, hidden among its giant wild neighbors.  It's wild too, but wild in a secret, deceptive sort of way.  The mass of his neighbors creates a world where he can thrive.

A flock of wild turkeys lives in these woods.  They've lived there since before the Englishmen came, before the French, before the Spanish, and even before the Choctaw or the Chickasaw.  These were their woods before a bunch of weirdos from Jackson decided to build a retirement community here.  If you try going to your car at dusk or dawn, they'll remind you these are their woods by chasing you down like a New York street gang.  Don't feel sorry for the bird in your croissant sandwich.  On their own, they're meaner than you and me put together.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Feist Dog and The Farm Report

An hour and a half before the alarm clock goes off, I'm giving up sleeping through the night for Lent. When I was little, this was the only time I was allowed to sneak into bed with Momma and Daddy. Around five, I'd hear him sit up, then see the cherry orb of his first cigarette move up and down in the dark. He never sat up until the last minute when his radio started.

In the silence, I hear momma breathing and his tobacco burn as he inhales. I'm pretending to be asleep. His alarm clock told the time by rotating a drum and flipping little cards with numbers painted on them. In the silence, I hear them flipping fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, then a bigger flip and Five a.m. Good morning, feist-dog. It's time for the farm report. The cigarette goes out, and daddy gets up to pee. I watch him shave, and momma stirs and makes her way to her bathroom. One of the luxuries of moving from the Northside drive house to the Honeysuckle Lane house was that Momma and Daddy had separate lavatories. Daddy's lavatory was spartan, but Momma changed the wallpaper on hers regularly. Mother had a thing for walls. When Martha moved out of the house, she insisted on texturing the feature wall in her dining area. She didn't do a terrible job, either. I wonder if the new owner kept it.

Being alone in Momma and Daddy's bed meant I could get up and watch TV in the den. Sleeping in didn't become part of my life until adolescent depression started sinking in. Even then, I'd still wake up before Farmer Jim came on the radio, much like I did today, but I might not stay up. Sitting up in my own bed, sneaking my own cigarette in the dark, I'd consider whether or not the day was worth it. My wife hated it. "Go OUTSIDE. You're supposed to go outside." then she'd lay back for a few more precious sleeps.

Where I am now, the nurses change shift in an hour. I hear them gossip as they gather near the door. I'm not the only resident awake, but only a few of us who are awake are aware. The light is on under Dr. Amazing's door. She's probably reading.

She went to the Methodist service in the chapel yesterday. I normally do, but yesterday I went to a poetry reading instead. I met coach Culpepper's wife. We didn't recognize each other at first. It's been forty years. Once she explained who she was, it all came back to me. I remember when they were just dating.

Listening to guys read their poems, who not only let other people read their poetry but manage to get people to print them in books. I write free-verse poetry. Nobody ever reads it. I don't know if I'll keep it that way. This piece is kind of free-verse, but it's more of an exercise I usually describe as cracking open the egg and seeing what's inside. The words slip out of my brain shell onto the skillet and begin to fry. This isn't precision cooking. It's catch-as-catch-can.

If only I could travel in time as easily as my mind does when I write. What would the nine-year-old me say to the fifty-nine-year-old me? Farmer Jim's been dead a while now, but feist-dog is still with me. He's been more loyal than all the women I've loved. Probably too many. I try not to think of the number, but I remember their eyes, every-one. Their hands. Holding hands and looking into a woman's eyes while you talk in a restaurant is a perfectly acceptable thing to do in public, even though the communication through my fingertips into the well of her hand can be absolutely filthy. It's a secret. Feist-dog looks away. "Not this again."

The sky is purple now.  Trees stand out black against it.  I'd like to finish my painting today.  I haven't had the urge for the past three days.  That's annoying.  Soon blues and grays will creep into the sky and cars will begin to move.  

Today, I begin the process of closing one apartment and moving to another.  My beloved Standard Life building is for sale.  I was kind of expecting it.  Covid killed the viaduct end of Capitol Street renaissance dead.   I'm hoping Jerry will open the Mayflower for supper before I go to the Ash Wednesday service.  From what I understand, he doesn't open every day anymore.  I miss his dad.  I miss his cousin Theo.  I miss a growing, optimistic Jackson.  Maybe if I work really hard, I can leave that to the next generation.  The second generation after my generation.  Honestly, that's kind of fucked up.  About half the girls I held hands with in the paragraphs above are grandmothers now.  To me, they're still beautiful.  Their tiny hands still remind me of fairy's wings, but we're old now.  I don't feel old, even though my back hurts and I have to pee about a thousand times a day.  

I thought being old would come with a feeling of confidence, a calm reflection that I am the river's master.  It didn't turn out that way.  I'm as nervous and unsettled now as I was at sixteen.  The river laughs at me and changes its meanders while I sleep when I sleep.   This is my home.  I was made to think I could be its master, but all I can do is throw words at it.  Words, words, words, maybe there's an idea in my scribblings that will ignite a discussion that might change a heart.  Maybe changing a heart here and there as the river flows by is the only way.  I've seen guys trade tens of thousands of acres of real estate and have less impact than a properly placed idea.  

Feist-dog wants me to get up.  The alarm goes off in a moment.  My fingers race to type out the last words before it does.  Good Morning.  It's time for the farm report.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Elseworks At CS's

 I'm a pretty big Virgi Lindsay fan.  Tonight she was gracious enough to come talk to an Elseworks and Midtown Business Association meeting at CS's.  Growing up in Jackson, there were about six guys who could tell you everything that was happening anywhere in the city.  If you didn't go to church with them, your momma went to high school with them, or they were one of our cousins, and if all that failed, you could go to Dutch Bar or Geroge Street and find one of them to explain whatever you were interested in.  

That hasn't been true in a while.  Jackson is a very complicated city now.  Our water system is under federal receivership, our sewers are under a consent decree with the EPA, policing has been mostly taken over by the state, and the Mayor and the City Council are in a suit with each other that neither side can talk about until there's a hearing.  

It used to be that everybody trusted the Mayor, but nobody trusted the City Council.  Today, that situation has flipped.  Virgi is part of why.  Her credibility is pretty high, and you could tell it by how the gathering responded to her.  She made me feel better about a number of issues; there is improvement on the horizon, and we just have to dig it out of some of the crap left over from the past few years.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Turkeys and Missing Fingers

Because of its proximity to the railroads, the fortunes of Jackson's Midtown always rose and fell with light manufacturing. Not so much now, but there was a time when there were at least a dozen small or mid-sized factories and shops going at Midtown.

After Pearl Harbor and America entered the war, my Uncle Boyd wrote a letter to the newly installed Jim Eastland to ask what Mississippi School Supply could do to support the war effort. Eastland wrote back with a mimeographed list of things the War Department needed, with orders to pick an item on the list and get to work.

One item on the list interested my Uncle Boyd, and one item interested his brother, my Grandfather.  Boyd saw where the airforce needed a specific size of ammo box to be manufactured by shaping sheet metal.  Boyd had never been a machinist, but his father was, even though he had only one hand.  The loss of the other hand was related to an infection from a childhood injury, not being a sloppy machinist.   

Boyd procured a warehouse in Midtwon with access to a railroad spur and began setting up shop, purchasing most of his equipment from companies that made metal roofs.  The depression was still pretty strong in Mississippi, so buying used equipment at a good price was not very difficult.  Soon Daddy and several of his high school buddies were employed to work under the legendary Jim Woodson to unload the sheet metal for the new Ammo Box Shop.  

Finding experienced machinists who weren't in danger of getting drafted meant that the Ammo Box Factory was primarily run by old men.  Daddy said nearly all of them were missing all or parts of their fingers from their many years of operating metal presses.  Meeting airforce officers come to inspect the work convinced Daddy to switch his aspirations from Army to Airforce.  He and most of his friends were convinced they'd end up in the war, but most of them ended up in Korea instead. 

My grandfather, on the other hand, was attracted to another item on the list:  Boil and Can Turkey meat.  Although he'd been Jackson twenty years by that point, grandaddy still missed the agricultural life.  Of all the Campbell children, he was considered the best with animals.  He rented a couple of empty lots on Monroe Street, where he and Jim Woodson set up chicken wire fences and commenced to raise turkeys.  Somewhere in my sister's house is a picture of Granddaddy squatting down amidst about a hundred turkeys.  Once grown, he had a place in midtown where they would slaughter, clean, boil, and can the turkeys and ship them off to feed our boys overseas. 

Neither of these ventures survived World War II.  By the end of the war, nearly all government military contracts were taken up by larger industrial concerns, pushing the smaller shops out of business.  Instead of Ammo boxes, Missco shifted its manufacturing focus to the laboratory future needed in all the new schools required by the baby boom and acquired General Equipment Manufacturing, and set up a factory in Crystal Springs.  

Millsaps has a pretty dedicated effort to reignite economic activity in Jackson's Midtown.  So far, they're having pretty good luck, even without a mimeographed list from JO Eastland.  

Sunday, February 19, 2023

My Second Church

Today was pretty active.  For the day of rest, I left the house at 8:30 am and returned at 6:30 pm.  After Sunday School and Church, my plan was to impress everyone and myself by making my way from Galloway to the Westin by myself in the wheelchair.   Turns out, it's not that impressive when the path from Galloway to the Westin is about 85% slightly downhill.  In a wheelchair, slightly downhill is kind of like floating in an innertube down a lazy river.  Some effort is involved, but not much.

Lunch at the Westin was really good.  I had the Lox & Bagel Eggs Benedict.  Even though it was almost one o'clock, there was just one table left open for me.  They had a guy playing sax with a music box accompaniment.  He was playing "It's a Man's World" when they seated me.  Good choice.

The plan was to have a lazy lunch, then spend two hours at the Mississippi Museum of Art, then head to St. James for Evensong, where the Millsaps Singers would combine with the St. James Choir.  I might come back another time for dinner.  I kind of worried that the Westin might kill business for King Edward, being newer and closer to Thalia Mara and the Court House.  I guess it really did because King Edward is on the auction block.  Honestly, I blame city leadership for that.  They let the train station fall apart after that extensive remodeling, and they let the street racing on Capitol go on too long.  I get that they're short-handed, but come on, the police station is right there.  

At the Museum, there was like a seven-piece bluegrass band playing, including one of my friends from Sunday school on the mandolin.   Apparently, they play every third Sunday.  I'll have to catch it again.  See the video below for a taste of their performance.

Evensong was scheduled at four, so I ordered an Uber and headed that way at 3:15.  Returning to St. James, I knew, would be tough.  That was my wife's church, and I'd come to love it.  In the divorce, we never discussed it, and there was never even a moment's fighting in the divorce, but that was her childhood church, so I just quietly stopped going.  

I had my own history at St. James.  Pat Jeffreys, who ran the School Book Supply Company for my Grandfather for many years, lived across the street.  A lot of people from St. Andrews either worked there or attended there.  My wife no longer lives in Jackson, so it'd be ok for me to start making St. James a part of my life again; I just wasn't exactly sure how, and I'd been avoiding crossing that threshold.

I got the Uber to drop me off behind the church.  I saw the new rector.  We hadn't met yet.  I was about half an hour early, and I could hear the choir rehearsing.  I sat outside listening, not entirely sure if I was going to go in, when the Rector asked if I wanted to.  Why not?  I'd listened to both of those choirs reherse many times.

I love the organ at St. James.  I remember watching as it was installed.   My plan was to sit in the back where nobody would notice I was there, and I could sneak out without anyone seeing me, but Rector Elizabeth asked if I wanted to sit up front.  I said I was ok where I was.  

There were a number of faces I was expecting to see at Evensong, but Sister Dorothea was not one of them.  Sister Dorothea and the Late Sister Josephine have a unique place in my life.  Their appearance has an almost mystical weight, even though I was apt to see them at baseball games as much as any church.  Although my time at St. Catherine's is coming to an end, they literally gave me my life back, and Sister Dorothea is responsible for that.  

I was feeling pretty invincible after seeing Sister Dorothea.  Sentimentality wouldn't rule this day, I thought.  But, a face I knew appeared.

"Are you, Boyd...Campbell?"

Seeing Susie Baltz without her husband Richard or her brother Cecil blew the armor off my back in a moment.  I wasn't expecting that.  "Hey, how are you?" was all I could think of to say.

"I'm good.  I've been missing Richard.  He died two years ago, you know."  I did know.  I knew there would be an emotional moment.  This was it.  Sometimes, it's really hard for me to express how much I loved and missed someone.  I'd sat in St. James with Suzie and Richard and Cecil many times.   Tonight she was alone.  They won't join her any more.  If there was anybody from St. James I'd want to see again, it'd be Cecil.  His last phone call stays with me.  He said he couldn't remember why he was calling.  I said it didn't matter.  I was just glad he did.

Rector Elizabeth asked again if I wanted to sit up front.  I'm really not a sit-up-front kind of guy, but there was no way around it this time.  David Elliot greeted me when I got situated.  He had a Sweanee T-shirt on.  I never went to Sewanee, but a lot of people wanted me to.  Rob and Phoebe Pearagin would be returning there this summer, but they were at St. James this night.  

From where I was sitting, I could see Michael Beattie working the organ.  It fascinates me.  You play with your hands and your feet and your elbows and your nose, and there are at least a million buttons, and out comes this amazing sound.  St. James has always had a really quality music program.  Musically, I'm probably a lot more Episcopalian than I am Methodist (don't tell Bob.)  For many of the songs, I closed my eyes.  They have great acoustics.

It's been over fifteen years since I crossed the threshold into St. James.  For a while, it was my church, our church, I suppose.  I must have looked like a deer in headlight, but it was a good return.  On the way out, I saw James Anderson bragging on his improved health.  He looked pretty hale to me.  We'll be putting him to work on the Millsaps Players reunion soon.  I'm not exactly sure how Im going to incorporate St. James into my religious life.  I've made a pretty big commitment to Galloway, but I'm going to make room for St James at least once a month.  Part of me has always been there.  I think it should stay.

2022-23 Millsaps Men's Basketball Senior Day Highlights

2022-23 Millsaps Women's Basketball Senior Day Highlights

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Sit at your Keyboard and Bleed

Hemmingway might have done this too much. In the end, it took him with it. Usually, when I do this, I can't ever show anybody. It's just too much. The human capacity to observe and think and process, and comment may be too strong for a social creature without serious constraint.

We murder each other a little bit every day. Now that you can have any gun you want no matter what condition your head is in, lots of people actually murder each other a little bit every day. Maybe they're just doing exactly what I do, but with another tool. Maybe if Hemmingway had used a gun instead of an Underwood Portable, he'd be alive today.
Sometimes there's a lot of drinking that goes along with this process. Sometimes writers use things a lot stronger. I completely understand this. My writing when I drink is usually really shit. Gigantic long sentences, not perfectly created, that is recoverable when I'm sober, but only if I break them into more digestible bits, but then when I discover what it is I was trying to say, I end up not wanting anyone to see it.
I feel bad for pappa. He knew his best work was already done, and he couldn't live with it. He tried living off mojitos, odd-toed cats, and the passion of Cuban women, but it wasn't enough. With his spark spent, he had nothing to live for.
I repressed my spark for what seemed like a hundred years. What it's gonna do now that it's out sometimes worries me. I try not to bleed onto my laptop. It runs down my arms, into my lap, and down my legs onto a puddle on the floor around my feet. It doesn't hurt. If anything, it feels like the relief that comes from lancing a boil. Life can be a festering boil, welling up alongside your normal organs and skin features. Everyone has them; we cover them with lace or scarves and pretend they don't exist while the bile and putrid dead blood build up inside them, ready to erupt at any moment.
I write at night to drain the puss and bile and dead blood from the boils of my life. Sometimes I let you see it if nobody you know has their name in it. I don't even write anything terrible about people, just how human they are, how they try not to be vulnerable, but they are because they don't have a choice, and the world beats them for it.
If I do this right, then maybe people will see themselves in it. Maybe not tonight because I'm rambling, but on nights when I do it well, nights when my muse has mercy on me, maybe I can write a bit of truth that helps someone hurt less.
I'm not Pappa. My ideas about being a man are very different from his, at least in public. In private, yeah, I'd like to get drunk and box somebody because I love them, just to see who's the stronger man. If I hit you as hard as I could in the face, what would happen? How would you look at me? It's not dangerous. Boxers hit each other in the face all the time, and nobody dies. It's a test. I hit you in the face. You hit me in the face. We continue till one of us doesn't want to do it anymore. Something about being human makes us want to do that. Isn't it odd?
This sense of doubt whenever I try to create is probably the justice of my life. I had it too easy as a kid. I didn't have some of the worries about daily life that a lot of people have, so now whenever I try to be what I really want to be, it terrifies me, like a ten-year-old trying to creep out to the end of the high dive board, so he can have the exhilaration of jumping off but doesn't have the balls to do it.
Sit down at the keyboard and bleed, but don't say anything horrible. It's harder than you know. Pappa took his own life because he couldn't write anymore. He ran out of words. God made me so that the words came out really slow and pretty mangled when I was a child. There's nothing worse than when a child thinks he must be stupid, like they say. It was a gif, though. I didn't have words then, but now I have too many. I'll never run out.
I know why Pappa did what he did. Don't you think I know? Words aren't what the think they are. Most things aren't. Memes are bits of ideas. They want to replicate themselves and spread. We don't have any choice. Sit at your keyboard and bleed, goddamnit.

A Meeting

 When we met, I was already making moves to close the doors between me and the world.  She didn't recognize me, but I recognized her.  Those eyes. That smile.  Her colors reminded me of sunshine and chocolate.  

I was fifteen, and she was twenty.  Most of the students never really talked to me because I watched the football games with my Dad and Dr. Harmon.  I saw her, though.  I remembered.  

I would see her again through the years.  Where she worked.  Where she worshiped.  A child came, then two.  I stopped seeing the father with them.  He was missing out.

Bringing me someone new when I was trying not to have anyone or anything that I had to hold on to was probably cruel.  It seemed so.  Maybe she was a lure.  Trying to bring me back into the world when I didn't want to.   

"Sometimes, I wish there was more help."  She said.  That wasn't really very fair, was it?  A mother of two, trying her best alone, with those eyes.  "Sometimes, I need help."

"I can help.  I think.  I mean, I wasn't planning on this, but I can help.  I think."  And my plans to leave the world were put off.  "Keep pushing until those girls are through college," I thought.  Then my obligation will be complete.  "How hard can that be?"  I thought.  

Standing With The Innocent

For the record, I'm a straight male, over fifty, living in Mississippi.  Going by demographics, I shouldn't have these thoughts, but I do.

There are fewer than one hundred thousand LGBTQ citizens of Mississippi.  Of that number, fewer than one hundred citizens under the age of eighteen are seeking medical treatment for Gender dysphoria, a medically and psychologically recognized condition.  Less than one hundred.  We have football teams with more kids on them.

Despite their small numbers, the Mississippi Republican Party is presenting over thirty bills to limit or control LGBTQ people in Mississippi, including a bill making the medical treatment of Gender Dysphoria among young people illegal.  Illegal.  Parents will go to jail if they seek this help for their children.

Considering their small numbers, you have to wonder what's really going on here.  Why does this small group of Mississippi kids warrant a law controlling their medical care?  Considering their small numbers, it's impossible and illogical to conclude that they present any sort of sociological or medical threat.  Gender Dysphoria is not a transmittable disease.  

For whatever reason, transgenderism represents a hot button for the GOP.  Despite their small numbers, the GOP would stamp them out if they could.  They find transsexualism and drag equally despicable.   Having spent the weekend at a drag show, I find this confusing.  In a room full of people, six drag queens performed, and not a single person was harmed.  Maybe the GOP doesn't like people who dance and dress better than they do.  

Because members of the Mississippi GOP know that segments of their base find Transgenderism repulsive and dangerous, they have chosen a path whereby they write laws hurting transgender and transsexual people, not because they pose a threat or because they are an actual problem, but because bullying these people helps them win points with their base.

Yes, I am accusing the Mississippi GOP of bullying transgender youth, and they're doing it to win the favor of the worst part of their base, not to solve any real or impending problem in our state.  What's despicable about this is that these kids are already getting bullied at school and among their peers, and now the state of Mississippi is officially taking the side of the school bullies who torture them.  Transgender kids already exhibit the highest rates of suicide of all American children, and now the State of Mississippi is adding to it. 

These people, the Governor, and others are trying to win the approval of, already vote straight Republican, so these bills only serve to stoke their enthusiasm and maybe raise a little money for the party.  For twenty years now, the Republican party has been completely comfortable with reaching into the worst parts of America for support, and in the last ten years, this has doubled.  

I stand with the transgender youth of Mississippi.  I do not understand them.  I've never really spent much time with them, but they are few, they are attacked, and they are hurt without hurting others, so I stand with them.  The State of Mississippi may have trouble showing love for these suffering children, but I do not.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Two For Three

I completed two of my three tasks today.  The first task was to take in Bob McElvaine at History is Lunch at the Mississippi History Museum to discuss his book "The Times They Are A Changing".  

If you haven't been to our two museum complexes, you owe it to yourself.  When I got there, there were at least a dozen yellow buses lined up outside, with hundreds of kids inside.  Going in, I passed some guy telling a group of teenagers how if they work hard, they can buy a Bugatti like his, and sure enough, there was a Bugatti parked on the street.

I was kind of expecting Bob's presentation to be a Millsaps Runion of sorts, but there were only about seven of us there, the rest were all townies, and it was packed!  The lecture went really well.  There was one fella at the end who asked a question that lasted about forty-five minutes, but god bless him; this stuff is important to him.

I got to corner Keith Dunn for a minute.  Some of the kids had been asking me about why our pool doesn't work, so I asked him.  The numbers on fixing the pool would shock you.  They shocked me.  It might be easier to build an entirely new one.  Doing anything with concrete in central Mississippi can be tricky.  I haven't given up on the project, but it's not gonna be a quick fix.  I suppose if it was a quick fix, it'd be fixed by now.  The problem with spending that kind of money on fixing the existing pool is that there are so many other projects we need that would use that amount of money, like building fifteen new black box theaters.  Anyway, I'm not giving up, but don't expect results soon.

Having read Bob's book and listening to his presentation, I kept thinking about what's going on with approved school reading lists and book banning in Florida.  This trend is certainly not going to end in Florida.  It will spread to Mississippi and Tennessee almost certainly next.  Having read the proposed and existing legislation in Florida, I don't know any way Bob's book can avoid getting banned there.  This is a perfect example of what these people think Critical Race Theory is.  It's not actually what Critical Race Theory is, but these people have no desire to know the truth.  We're soon going to be in a situation where it might even be questionable whether these kids can even visit our Mississippi History or Civil Rights museums because some of the exhibits will violate this ant CRT rampage.  There are artifacts in the museum that teachers will jeopardize their jobs if they teach about them or show them to their classes.  I wish I was exaggerating.

After the lecture, I had lunch at the Nissan Cave by Nick Wallace at the museum.  Nick used to be the head chef at the King Edward Hotel, near where I lived at the Standard Life Building.  Nick's a remarkably talented chef.  I'd love it if somebody could help set him up at Parlor Market and get that going again.  I had the Ramen Bowl with pork belly and boiled egg.  It was so good.

My next step in the plan for the day was to go from the Museum to the Capitol building for a protest aiming to strike down some of the anti-trans legislation that's on this year's docket.  Sometimes I like to challenge myself.  Actually, all of the times, I like to challenge myself.  I kept the option open to take an uber to the Capitol, but as it had not started raining yet, I decided to wheel it.  Many of the sidewalks downtown have recently been maintained, so getting to the Capitol by wheelchair wasn't actually that difficult.  It took about twenty minutes, but I made it with no problems.

The poster on Facebook for the protest said it was going from noon till four.  I got there close to 2:30 and was just in time to see them making their way down congress street to go bother Tate at home.  Because I was already kind of spent, I decided not to join them.

The third leg of the day's journey was going to be attending the Majors Basketball game vs. Birmingham Southern, but the sky was looking pretty annoyed, so I tap-tapped my phone for an uber home.  The driver was a guy I knew from Calloway, and we had a good time catching up and discussing some of the challenges that Jackson faces and regret for letting things get this bad.  That's kind of a constant refrain these days: how did we let things get this bad.  I'm not dismayed, but I'm not naive either.  The things I want to do won't be easy.  

The Roast for Jeff Good benefiting the Mississippi Press Association Education Fund is tomorrow night at the Westin Downtown.  The weather is supposed to be horrendous.  I have tickets, but if it's as bad as they say, I may skate.  It's not that I don't love the people involved, but using an Uber in really bad rain can be dicey.  I'll be there in spirit.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Worm

So, I got to the part of the bottle where the worm lives one night.  One of my fraternity brothers thought it was a good idea to smoke me out too.  If you don't know what that means, it has something to do with chicken wings.  

Somehow I made my way from the KA house to CS's, maybe 50 yards away, across West street.  I'm pretty sure it took a couple of hours to get there.  I kept turning in the wrong direction.

So, I make it into CS's and manage to somehow prop myself up to the bar.  Inez says, "can I get you somethin'" and I said, "Hey, baby." and nothing more.  

After a while, I don't know how long a while, my friend Beeve came to talk to me.  We called him Beeve because he reminded us of the guy on Leave it to Beaver on television.   Beeve talked to me about this and that and asked many questions, and was genuinely glad to see me, as Beeve always was.

After a while, I don't know how long a while, I looked at my friend Beeve, and I said, "Hey, Beeve.  I don't know why you're talking to me.  I have no idea what you're saying.  I don't even know who you are."  

I can't remember a single word he said, but I'll always remember the hurt look on his face when I said I didn't recognize him.  This was apparently a very hurtful transgression, one I did my best not to repeat.  Mezcal is a very strong medicine.  Whatever the hell brother Wedie gave me to smoke was even worse.  I learned not to take anything from him.

Godiva Chocolates

Godiva Chocolates makes something like eighty percent of their sales around valentines day.

I used to know someone.  Everyone thought she was almost always happy and always laughing.  That wasn't real, though.  Her smile was very convincing, but she was almost always unhappy, afraid, and worried about her future.  Not everyone knew what was going on inside her, but she trusted me.  Her smile meant more than gold to me, when I could get it.

Every few weeks, I would overnight a small box of assorted Godiva white chocolates to Memphis because Godiva White Chocolates were sometimes the only thing that made her feel better, even though it never lasted.  

Love doesn't always bring happiness.  I tried with all my strength to lift the darkness that surrounded her life, but all I could manage was an hour or two of sunlight.  Sometimes a few days, then the darkness always came back.  I failed.  Eventually, the darkness became all she had in life.  I shouldn't feel responsible for not fixing that, but I do.  I always will.  Knowing I wasn't responsible doesn't take the ache away. I was the owl man.

"Will chocolate make it better? Just for today?"

"What kind?"

"What kind do you like?"

"You know what kind I like," She said.

"Sleep now.  When you wake up tomorrow, a man will bring you chocolates.  I love you--you know."  

"I know you do."  She said.

"I wish it helped more.  I wish something would help more."

"I know you do." She said.

"My love can't make you well, but maybe it'll make you smile for a day.  I'll keep trying."

"I know you will."  She said.

I didn't keep trying, though.  In time, I gave up on her too.  Sometimes, loving someone that sad can pull the life out of you.  When I look back on it, she was probably pushing me away.  She knew that she was so sad herself that she could never love me back, and in her own way, she didn't want to see me hurt too.  

She smiled and ate her chocolates, and I kissed her head and held her hand.  My love couldn't make her well, but it could make her smile.  I'll take what I can get.

Lost Love

Sometimes, when we have a bad breakup, we feel like we were never loved at all.  Because something wasn't ever-lasting, we tend to believe there was something false or defective about it in the first place.  Maybe it was never real at all.  That's an illusion, though.  A false assumption.

No matter how it ended, there were still nights of flaming passion.  There were still mornings when you saw her eyes before you saw the sun.  There were still days when you went to work, and all she really wanted in the world was for you to have a good day.  There were still days so bad when the only thing in the world that would make you feel better was her voice.  None of those things were false; they just weren't permanent.  Being locked in a moment of time doesn't make things any less real.  In some ways, it makes them so much more real.  

Where I am now, every day I see people coming to visit the person they've loved for the past sixty years and spend time while their lover forgets who they are.   Their love lasts, but their names are forgotten.  Some come to hold hands with the woman who bore them three children while she struggles to breathe, knowing her last day won't be long.

God injected us into the fabric of eternity.  The love of a thousand years lasts but the briefest moment.  It's not your failure when things end because all things end; you will too.  In the span of eternity, a moment is an hour is a decade, is a century, is a millennium.  The love of just one moment lasts beyond the life of our sun; neither will last--in time.  

Monday, February 13, 2023


This morning, I had a breakfast meeting with John Maxwell.  John has some interesting projects in mind; hopefully, I'll be able to report more there soon.  He has an interest in allowing Millsaps to archive his manuscripts at our Library.  I'm trying to work with our Library to facilitate that.  Besides working to install a new president, Millsaps is also working to install a new librarian, so nothing happens quickly.  He also has at least two new plays in the works.

I learned Sunday that Galloway is interested in reviving its drama ministry.  John's a member at Galloway and certainly could be a valuable resource there.  After hearing this, I went and eyeballed the space and some of the equipment myself.  The good news is that the lighting equipment is in pretty good shape; the bad news is nobody uses those kinds of lights anymore.  I'm not even sure we can get lamps for some of the fixtures.  Whatever happens, we'll figure it out.  Hopefully more to report on that soon.

Since I mostly use Ubers, I arranged to arrive early, and I'm really glad I did because I got to spend about twenty minutes with one of my favorite people in the world, Bob Adams.  A Millsaps 1959 alumni, Bob is one of Mississippi's most significant architects, particularly with regard to anything involving the restoration and rehabilitation of historic and architecturally significant structures in Mississippi. 

Besides Millsaps, I mostly know Bob from my years with the Jackson Zoo.  We both took turns on the JZP Board and the Friends of the Jackson Zoo Board.  As an architect, Bob is responsible for the Annie Laurie Herin Education Center, the Elephant House Cafe, and the Discovery Children's Zoo.  As a board member, Bob was responsible for the African Rainforest and Savanah Exhibits and many others.  Like myself, Bob also had the experience of dressing as Santa and riding Marre the African Elephant into Christmas At The Zoo to greet the visitors.  

In Jackson, Bob is known for adopting and renovating historically and architecturally significant buildings.  For me, calling a structure "architecturally significant" is a pretty high bar.  Architecture is important to me.  One of Bob's purchases is the Grayhound Bus station on Lamar Street.  The Bus Staton is done in the Art Deco Streamline style, which is very rare in Mississippi.  It represents some of the most interesting uses of architectural glass I've ever seen.  For many years, this building served as Bob's office; I'm happy to report that it has been purchased by a gentleman who intends to make a restaurant out of it.  That's actually very interesting because the Lunch Counter inside this bus station has a very significant role in America's Civil Rights history.  I don't think I can say who bought it yet, but he's one of Mississippi's best chefs, and I've eaten with him before.

Like myself, Bob has physical balance issues these days, so he has moved to a new home, leaving his old home for sale.  Saying Bob's old home is for sale is a big deal because Bob's old home is Fountainhead, one of the most important houses, not only in Mississippi but in the South East.  Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1950, Bob purchased Fountainhead in 1979 and spent several years restoring it to Wright's original vision.  

There will be no open viewing for Fountainhead.  If you are genuinely interested in this property, your agent can arrange a viewing.  The last time Bob had an open house for Fountainhead, over six hundred people came.   The Zillow listing is here:  It shows as off-market, but that's incorrect.


Again, I cannot express what a big deal this is.  Hopefully, some young family will fall in love with the house and continue the tradition of keeping it as well as Bob did.

As much as I enjoyed seeing Bob, we did discuss something pretty painful for both of us.  Conservatively, I've invested a few thousand hours at the Jackson Zoo, Bob, maybe three or four times that.  In the next ten to fifteen years, Jackson will have to make the painful decision to pull the plug on the Jackson Zoo.  Without a deeply serious re-investment in West Jackson, I don't see how it can be avoided.  There's a group now trying to do for West Jackson what the residents of Fondren did.  Unless they are successful, I don't see any other fate for my beloved Jackson Zoo.  I don't think I'm adequately expressing how difficult this is for me, but the fate of the animal collection comes first, and unless we can seriously change the course of progress here, I don't see any other way.

Life gives, and life takes away.  Having to have conversations about the Zoo are painful, but I got to spend time with two of my most favorite people in Mississippi, John Maxwell and Bob Adams.  I also got to spend a minute or two with Joel Howell, who is one of the people responsible for creating the new Millsaps Theater space.

There's a really cool article about Bob on the MBench Website.  It doesn't include a byline (which it SHOULD) but I think I recognize the style.  I'll ask her.  By the way, Bob asked if I knew the whereabouts of Barbara Barrett, who was the director of the Zoo most of the years when we were active, and I had to say I didn't know.  If you do, please let me or Bob know.  I want Barbara to run for Governor or something.  She's that capable.  


Saturday, February 11, 2023

Words For Race

The preferred word to describe people of African descent has changed several times since I was born.  How we, as a culture, perceive and treat people of African descent has changed several times since I was born.  I was blessed to live in interesting times.

Currently, I mostly use the term African to describe people of the African Diaspora.  For one thing, it's the most accurate.  My genes are from Scotland.  I am Scottish.  Their genes are from Africa.  They are African.  To be entirely honest, I'd much rather break it down to what part of Africa they come from, but for people living in the US, what goes on inside the great continent of Africa is a complete mystery.  Were they asked to name countries or cities in Africa, they'd be at a loss.  I'll be completely honest with you, most of what I know about Africa started with my interest in Tarzan, a character created by a man who had never been to Africa himself.  I've informed myself since then, but that's how it started.

Using the word "African" also describes the elephant in the room itself, the place called Africa, ironically also where elephants come from.  The idea of colonization and colonizing that created these bad ideas and bad feelings about race that we live with began with colonization, and no place on earth was more poorly treated and received less in return than Africa.  The cradle of mankind has not been treated too kindly by the people who migrated out of there.

What might currently be the preferred term for people who are African is "Black."  While historically often used, it came into preference in the seventies and probably became a favorite from the use of the phrase "Black Power," which spoke to the ideas of upward social movement, self-determination, and solidarity that were popular then.  A short and square word, Black ends with an aggressive K sound.  I get why it's liked.

My problem with Black is that it was originally used to exaggerate the otherness of African people and suggest that they are somehow the opposite of Europeans, who were described as "White."  We are good; they are bad.  We are enlightened; they are in the dark.  We are civilized; they are slaves.  We are men; you are animals.  All of these ideas were real and common for a very long time.  I genuinely dislike the use of "White" as well.  Leave white to the White Walkers.  It also squashes all the cultural and ethnic, and genetic diversity of Europe into one big pot.  I don't like being lumped together with the English, much less the Finns, the French, or the Flemish.

Both of my preferred words to describe Africans are no longer in favor.  They're no longer in favor because they were used so long to condescend, and there came a time when African people began to demand we stop condescending to them.  Besides all the crap we were already doing to them, that became an insult.  I get that.

For me, "Negro" is a beautiful word.  For one thing, its origin is probably French or Spanish or both.  It has a musical shape and sound to it, like a viola.  "Which wine would you like, Madam?"  "What is your best bottle of Negro, Garcon?"  Besides being condescending, Negro fell out of favor because it degrades into something horrible.  First "Negro", then "Neegra," then, you-know-what is next.  

Some writers type it easily.  I do not.  Even when my fingers are making words spoken by a character or relaying what someone I actually saw actually said, it's uncomfortable.  If I'm honest, it's not because I'm enlightened or nice or anything admirable.  My grandmother taught me to never use that word because it made me sound ignorant, and she said it with a face that made it seem so much worse than just ignorant.  Evelyn Flowers was most of the time as gentile as a flower, but she could be as harsh and aggressive and unmoving as a lion on some things, and me being "ignorant" was one of the things.

Colored is my favorite.  Who wouldn't want to be colored?  If your choice was to have color or to have none, you'd choose color.  "Colored lady" or "Colored gentleman," or even "Colored baby" are some of my favorite phrases.  They express a friendliness, both on the parts of the speaker and of the person they are describing.  If you're white and from the South, and I use the phrase "colored lady" it's most likely going to invoke memories of someone who loved you and was kind to you.  

The system of having African "aunties" or maids in white families was itself problematic, as described by Kathryn Stockett was very real, but she also did a great job of describing the sometimes cruel problems that came from it.  "Colored" is archaic, and it's problematic, so even though it's my favorite term, I really only use it when I'm making a point, or speaking for a character.

Ultimately, white men like me do not make this decision, and that's the way it should be.  I may be made of words, but these are real people with real lives, and I respect that.  The preferred word will probably change again in time, but "African" will always be accurate.  

Don't call me white, though; I am a Highlander.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

True Love and Caramel Cake

My parents started "dating" when they were in the sixth grade at Power Elementary under the watchful eye of my aunt Sara Catherine, who ran the cafeteria, and her husband Luther was the favorite of everybody in daddy's generation, which was all boys except for two hold-outs.

From sixth grade until the day daddy died, neither of them had ever been involved with anyone else.  It's been my mission to make up for all the romantic gregarity daddy missed out on.  I may have invented a word.  Meriam Webster is telling me there's no such form of gregarious as gregarity.  I'll never be recognized for my genius in my generation.

When Daddy died, Momma was on vacation with my cousin Libby in Florida, they chose to drive, even though we had a plane and Libby worked for Delta. (my family can be odd.)  There were carphones in those days, but Momma refused to get one.  They were intrusive, she felt.  She was probably right.  She also confused Cell Phones with the Radio Phone that Rowan Taylor had, and somebody with a police scanner caught him calling a judge an asshole, so he never trusted them again.

As they entered Alabama, Libby called daddy's office to let him know they'd be home in x number of hours.  She was transferred to James Carr, who told her what happened but not to tell Mother until she got back to Jackson.  He thought that'd be better than her sitting all that time in a car thinking about how her life had suddenly changed.

Back at home, the house was filling up with Ole Miss KA's, Millsaps people, and whatever family we could find.  Robert Wingate drove to Jackson from Greenwood and waited for momma to get home.  Of all my relatives, Wingate always was.  He just was.  Poor Libba Wingate.  How many times did Robert have to say, "I gotta go." then disappear into the night.  He was just that kind of guy.  God, I miss him.  

As she drove up to our house on Honeysuckle, Mother saw all these cars.  She immediately assumed something had happened to one of her children, probably me.  She'd lived through this with other families before.  Turning in the driveway, the headlights lit up Leon Lewis and Brum Day.  Mr. Lewis might have been there if I died in a wreck, but once she saw Brum, she knew what it had to be.  Her fifty-year love affair had come to an end.

Fifty years is a long time.  So far, twelve years is the longest I've gone with the same person.  I think what made their relationship work was that they had a genuine sense of humor about each other.  

One time, Mother got real sick with an intestinal thing and had to spend six days at St. Dominics.  People from all over brought daddy all these casseroles so he wouldn't starve, even though he and Rowan ate steak every night.  Daddy only knew how to cook one thing, and I had to teach him how to do that correctly.  The casseroles began to stack up.  He gave me one, and I think Jimmy got one.  

Finally, momma came home.  She gave me instructions on how to heat up one of the casseroles stacked in her refrigerator, and we ate as a family for the first time since she got sick.  Martha was still living at Millsaps, but the rest of us all had our own places.  Eating the Mexican something, something casserole Jane Lewis made, Daddy said, "If you'd been sick a little longer, somebody woulda made me a caramel cake."  He got away with it.  My wife woulda made sure I wore whatever was left of the something, something Mexican casserole, but then we didn't start dating when we were ten years old.

Mother wasn't the type to let anyone get the better of her.  She took to the habit of leaving daddy a birthday card on his lavatory every year.  He would read it, kiss her on the head and say how much he loved it, then leave it back on his lavatory as he went to work.  That night, he'd come home and take her out to eat, usually at the Mayflower, and we kids were at the mercy of Hattie the maid, or my grandmother, both of which were excellent cooks.  Noticing that Daddy did the same thing every year without deviation of any sort, Mother decided to try something.

She took to collecting the birthday card he left on the lavatory and tucking it away in her desk.  The next year, she'd leave the same card on the same lavatory where he would read it, kiss her on the head, then take her out for dinner.  This went on for most of my youth. The same card, the same ritual, year after year.  Finally, in my twenties, she was lubricated enough at a dinner party that she revealed the rouse to her friends.  Daddy turned a little red-faced for a minute, realizing he'd been caught not really noticing the card she picked out all those years was always the same one.  Then, he sheepishly offered, "still counts."  And, so it did.

Playing tricks on each other can be good for a relationship.  A sick wife really should be worth a caramel cake.  You can even buy them at the store now.  Obviously, I don't know the secret to true love, but I think maybe being able to laugh at each other helps.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Refusing the Eucharist

They have a Methodist service every Tuesday at St. Catherines.  Other denominations have other days, but Tuesday is ours.  Since it's near the first of the month, the pastor had communion for the group that was there.  I refused. Normally, I'll take communion when it's offered, but with spring making the trees bud, I've been having a terrible allergy attack today and yesterday, so I figured I should refuse.

I refused to take communion on all occasions for many years.  It bothered my wife to no end.  "Why can't you be normal?"  She'd ask.  That's a good question, actually.  I wish I had an answer.

David Elliot and Minka Sprague would try to bring the cup to me in case the problem was that I didn't want to walk down to the front of the church, but I'd cross my chest and refuse.  David's spent the better part of fifty years trying to save me.  He's still trying.  He's taught me a lot about not giving up.

My problem with communion began when I started to seriously consider what the eucharist suggested and what it represented, and what sort of man I was.  A man, who I never knew, who owed me not even a kind glance, sacrificed his body and his life for my sake.  Even if Jesus wasn't real.  Even if Jesus was just some misguided soul who believed he was the son of God, the idea that anyone, divine or not, would suffer on my behalf made me feel extremely unworthy and ungrateful.  The idea that he might actually be the personification of God made it so much worse.

"This is my body, broken and whipped.  Pierced by a spear and nailed to a cross, a cruel Roman Cross,  to die--for you"

"This is my blood, spilled on the ground and pulled from my body by inconceivably cruel people--for you."

Not for me.  Not for me.  Not for ME! I'm sorry.  I'm not worthy.  Not for me.  Please, not for me.

Break your body and spill your blood for these people I love; I will too, but not for me.  Please!  Not for me.

I take communion now.  It still bothers me more than you can imagine, but I began to consider that my master has commanded me to do this, and I should make some effort at obedience,  so I do it, but always with regret.  Maybe the humility that comes from regularly facing my own unworthiness is good for me.  I try not to question it.

"This is my body.  I chose to break it for you."

"This is my blood.  I chose to spill it for you."

"Eat this, drink this, in remembrance of me.  In remembrance of what I chose to do--for you."

Being a Christian shouldn't be easy.  You have to make hard choices.  This is one.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Angela's Eyes

Most men have a pretty clearly defined "type" when it comes to women that stays with them the rest of their life.  I think what happens is they imprint on somebody when they're young, and it stays locked in that way for good.  In my case, it was Angela Cartwright from Lost In Space.  She had brown hair and brown eyes, and that pattern was set for me for the rest of my life.

Cartwright is eleven years older than I am, but through the miracle of television syndication, I was convinced she was only two years older.  I had all sorts of plans of exploring the galaxy with her and the robot by my side on the Jupiter two.  By the time I actually met Angela, she had mostly white hair, but that doesn't matter.  The pattern was set.

After Angela went off the air and I moved into middle school, I graduated to Valerie Bertinelli.  It broke my heart when she ran off with that guitar player.  It's ok, though; by then, I'd moved on to Susanna Hoffs, the Egyptian lead singer of The Bangles, who coincidentally had a hit song called "Walk Like An Egyptian."  Funny how that works.

By the time Hoffs came along, I was getting ready for college and began noticing that there were all these girls in the real world that fit that model.  By the time I got to Millsaps, there was no secret that there were a set of girls who had me on a short leash and I followed them around and did whatever they said, and it worked out ok for everybody.  Except for one outlier who was blonde, you could line them up with Angela Cartwright and Susanna Hoffs and call them sisters because they all looked so much alike.  

There were five Chi-O's, two KD's, one independent, and one Tri Delta.  Some people are sinking in their chairs reading this right now, hoping I won't mention their names.  I won't.  If you were there in those days, I don't have to because you already know them.  One dyes her hair blonde now if that's any help.  (I hate it. Don't tell her I said that.)

What's cool is that, even though I was completely at the mercy of these girls, and they knew it, and EVERYBODY knew it, it was never a problem.  Nobody ever stepped out of bounds.  Nobody ever tried to press the advantage and use my devotion for anything other than what was good for everybody.  They were, exactly what their mothers raised them to be: ladies.  

When I got out of college, life became considerably more difficult, and there were some new girls who would use my nature against me.  I've written about that before.  I don't like to write about it.  Life in your twenties can be brutal, so I hold no grudges.

I think about these things when I see younger guys now, guys I know who are just starting out.  Men are ruled by their heart.  It will ever be so.  At the last theater lunch, I mentioned some friends who are a couple years older than I and who have always had a special fondness for each other.  Apparently, nobody had told the kids they were an item, so there was some satisfaction when I confirmed that they had "shipped" them correctly.  I don't know how you could have missed it.  

Later today, after I do my exercises and other work for the day, an old friend will come to visit his wife, who lives in the hall near me.  She, too, once had raven hair and chocolate eyes.  In his heart, I'm sure she still does.  Sometimes, when people get older, their mind begins to leave them.  I hate it when that happens.  A gentleman's heart is constant, though.  He'll be coming here every day to remind her of who she is from now on, long after I've moved back to Jackson.  I understand that on a deep level.  A man is ruled by his heart.  There's a reason for that.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Jobs Available

When I went into hibernation, I wasn't planning on ever coming out.  I knew death was coming, and I was ok with it.  I knew death was nearby because he'd been taking out my support staff one by one for a while.  When it came to be my turn, I figured I wouldn't put up a fight.  How bad could it be?  I would know and love so many people already on the other side.  

Only, it didn't work out that way.  When death came for me, I looked him in the eye and said, "Not today, friend.  Not today."

All those years in the cave took nearly all the strength I'd been known for.  No more could I move truckloads of iron in the gym.  I could barely lift a glass of milk to my lips, but it was a start.  God's hand reached down to me, and just like the blind and bald Samson, my strength started returning.  Slowly, at first, but building momentum.  He was pushing me.

From the beginning, I began noticing strange coincidences.  Jobs requiring skills I had began appearing just as I was getting strong enough to do them again.  It happened often enough that it started freaking me out a little bit.  Maybe coming back to life wasn't my choice at all.  Maybe there were other forces at work here.

I started going back to Sunday School at Galloway.  I hadn't been to Sunday School since Bert Felder first started his ministry there.  I thought it'd take me a while to figure out which way to go, but right off the bat, Sue Whitt reached out to me and told me where to go.  Sue's been telling me where to go, in one way or another, since I was nineteen.  She's always been right so far.  So, now I have a Sunday School.

At Sunday School, someone mentioned that some money was being raised for the Drama Ministry at Galloway.  Drama Ministry at Galloway used to be a really active thing. The family life center has a really nice theater in it.  One of the last productions I was ever involved with anywhere before sealing up the door to my cave was "Harvey" at Galloway, which I got involved with because Brent couldn't.  

What are the odds that Galloway would need people with theater skills just at the same moment that I was returning to the church family?   That's not a natural progression.  If I do this (and I am going to do this), it will make me sad to do it without Rick Bradley, but maybe it'd make him happy to know I was there when he couldn't.  I'm probably going to try and rope Brent into it as well.  Theater ministry has been a part of his life his whole life, and there are people there who already love him.  He's not really satisfied doing theater when he can't stand on a ladder, but that's ok.  There are other jobs.  He can sit in a rocking chair like Lance.  Boy, I miss Lance.  Y'all don't know.  Well, maybe some do.  Maybe Sam will want to be a part too.  I don't know if he has a church family here yet or not.

One of the reasons Dr. Whitt recommended this class for me was that it was run by Tom Harmon.   Tom is deeply involved with Art For All Mississippi.  Artforallms.com exists so that developmentally challenged artists can grow their skills and discover new ones and find fellow travelers in their journey.  Until I started making my writing available online, even my oldest friends didn't know I was developmentally disabled, and even my oldest friends had forgotten that I was ever an artist.  Now that art is part of my life again, thanks to people like Hope Carr, Will Primos, and others, I'm kind of duty-bound to investigate this organization and see if there's a place where my hands should take hold and help pull.  I am, very much, a developmentally disabled artist in so many ways.

"Arbeit macht frei" appears at the entrance to probably the most evil place man ever created.  They were evil, but they weren't wrong.  Work WILL set me Free.  I need work.  I need to serve.  I need to expend effort on something, on some people, other than myself, if I'm going to live again, and I very much want to live again.  With every step I take, God lays out more of the path before me.  I could close my eyes and still find the way, but I won't.  I want to see it all.  I'm back at work, y'all.  Life is good.

Pet Parade Sunday Morning

Good Mornin!  

It's thirty-seven degrees in Jackson, Mississippi.  That's cold.  It's Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!  I'm gonna put a tie on feist-dog and take him to church.  Pastor Carey Stockett is gonna preach part four of his five-part series on the Lord's Prayer.  Lord found out what Feist-dog been up to and told me to bring him in.

We got continued livestock judging at the fairgrounds, leadin' up to the Dixie National Rodeo starting February 10th.  Get your tickets at the coliseum box office.  Today will be the judging of 4H lambs and heifers.  Come on down to support 4H participants from all over Mississippi.

It's six o'clock, time for Pet Parade!  Pets, lost, found, and to-give-away!

We got three items on Pet Parade today, all from the north end of Meadowbrook Road.  Willie Lee Kroeze has found a pet crow.  Says the crow weighs around five pounds.  It eats well and responds to simple commands.  If this is your crow, she's keeping it in her carport and is teaching it new tricks.  Call her at Emmerson 6724 to pick up your pet crow.

Katherine Speed has lost a brown gelding horse.  It's old, it's mean, and you can't ride it, but she wants it back anyhow.  Last seen being chased by Jim Campblell's yard man, Ivory Barnes, with a rope.  Both are moving pretty slow.  If you see this horse, call Mrs. Speed at Lakewood 5321.  She'd like to have him back.

Last lost pet of the day, Pop Primos, has lost a tom turkey.  Last seen being chased by Jessie the Janiotor across the St. Andrews lower school football field.  If you see the turkey, call Mr. Kenny Primos at their Northgate restaurant.  Stay healthy. Eat at Primos.

That's all we got for Pet Parade today.  Ya'll call these folks if you can help 'em out.  Feist-Dog was gonna try to catch that turkey till he saw how big it was, then he ran and hid behind the wood-pile.  

These are all authentic Pet Parade stories, by the way.  I was there.  I loved Willie Kroeze to pieces.  She was Pet Parade's best customer. If there was ever a lost or misguided pet in North East Jackson, she'd find it and nurse it back to health until she either found its original owner or a better one.

Sometimes people like to talk about how Great Jackson was in those days.  It certainly wasn't trouble-free.  Every attempt to integrate our Capitol City met with bitter resistance.  Somebody blew up the Beth Israel Synagogue because they didn't like the way Rabbi Nussbaum was friendly with the negros.  The water system broke about as often then as it does now, but they didn't go out on the radio and television with a "boil water" notice because the EPA didn't require us to.  Breaks in the pipes got fixed a little faster because the city had more money because the population was still growing, not shrinking like it is now.  Water breaks got fixed a lot quicker if you lived in North East Jackson.  Less quickly if you lived in West Jackson, and you were lucky to have water at all if you lived in parts of midtown.  

Things seemed better when Jim Neal was on the radio.  He didn't sound like a radio man.  He sounded like your grandpa talking to you while he made breakfast.  It was comforting and very real.  Jim Neal cared for us.  He served in the Mississippi legislature, and he raised tens of thousands of dollars for the university hospital beyond fighting for its funding in the legislature.  He loved animals and often was the master of ceremonies at the Dixie National Rodeo.  I listened to WZZQ at night because they had better music.  Farmer Jim played what I called Lawrence Welk music, but I didn't care.  I needed his voice in the morning.

When Farmer Jim died, I let Feist-dog come live with me.  My wife didn't care too much for him; her cats didn't like the way he smelled.  He's old, his teeth are crooked, and he's not good for nothin', but I like having him around.  He reminds me not so much of good days in the past, although there were a lot of those, but better days ahead.  Feist dog reminds us of the humble but beautiful things God gives us, and keeps our mind on the new day ahead, even if it's really cold outside.  Good morning' feist-dog.  Let's go to work.

Official Ted Lasso