Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life. Show all posts

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Leaving the Protection of the Playpen

I was still very young when we moved from Northside Drive to Honeysuckle Lane.  My sister only lived in the old house a few months before we moved.  All I remember of the Northside Drive house was watching my brothers play and being too young to join them, especially in the tree house my oldest brother and our neighbor built.  They nailed boards to the tree trunk to make a ladder, and I was too short to reach the first one.  

Seven people living in a three-bedroom house meant all three boys slept in one room, the baby girl and my grandmother in another, and my parents in the larger master bedroom.  I could make a lot of noise but had trouble making words.  I was too young for anyone to suspect I had a stuttering problem.  They thought I was just too young to make words and sentences properly.

Being in the middle often meant no one would notice me if I was quiet, so I was quiet often.  Even then, getting a lot of attention made me nervous.  Years of psychotherapy couldn't come up with many theories on it either.  I guess I was just born nervous.

Everyone wanted to see the baby.  That was fine by me.  The older boys had all the freedom in the world.  While it looked like fun, it intimidated me.  I wanted a piece of it, although I never got it.  With all this going on, it was often difficult to get Mother's attention.  With three other children, her own mother to take care of, and all her leagues and clubs, her schedule was pretty full. 

Playpens were fairly common then.  Essentially, it was a cage painted with stars, cows, moons, and other things that interested children. Parents could put their toddlers inside, and they couldn't wander off.  The baby was safe in their playpen, and whoever was minding them didn't have to pay so much attention.  Playpens are effective until the baby gets strong enough to climb out of them.  I don't know if they were supposed to leave a lasting impression on the children who were left in playpens, but I remember being in mine.  

My mother enjoyed telling about how she asked her teenage niece to watch over me.  It wouldn't be difficult since I was in the playpen.  She set my playpen in the front yard with my cousin Libby watching over me, which worked fine until some of Libby's teenage friends came to see her.  While they were busy talking about the things teenage girls talk about, nobody was paying much attention to me, so they missed the point where I threw off my diaper and began my climb out of the pen.  Libby snatched me up before I made too much progress from the playpen to the street, but it gave her a big scare, and she was mortified that her friends saw the whole affair.  

My father began spending less and less time at home as his career began to take off.  I remember him having uniforms to coach my brother's pee wee baseball team, and he had his own imitation buckskin tunic to wear when he took them to Indian Guides.  There wasn't time for any of that with me.  When I was older, I asked why there were no photos of my pee wee baseball team.  I could tell it hurt my mother when she said there wasn't enough time for me to play, so I never asked again.  

They signed me up for Indian Guides, but when I noticed that my dad was the only one missing nearly all the meetings, I asked if I could stay home.  If I diddn't go to the Indian Guide meeting, nobody would noticed my dad wasn't around.  I bragged about spending breakfast with him, which was true, but still not the same as having him there.  He worked to make time for me, but there was less and less of it to spare as his life became more complicated.

My place of refuge was Martha Hammond's kitchen.  The Hammonds lived behind us.  She had children, too, but they were older.  Some were even teenagers.  We would watch television together and talk.  Martha Hammond was probably the first person I ever really talked to.  I know she was the first person who ever much listened.  I don't know how much a four-year-old might have to say that's interesting, but whatever it was, she listened, and her listening made an impact on me.

Everything is potentially traumatizing for small children, but moving can be particularly confusing.  The house on Honeysuckle Lane was easily twice the size of the house on Northside Drive.  I had a semi-private bedroom where a large partition defined my space from my brother's, and we each had our own closet.   We had new neighbors, but I missed the old ones, particularly Mrs. Hammond.  Already an insecure child, something about moving made it worse.

One day, as he came home from work, my father found me under my grandmother's bed, crying.  

"What's wrong, buddy?"  He asked.

"I don't know where I belong,"  I answered, refusing to come out from under the bed.

Daddy laughed.  "This is your house, buddy.  You belong here!"

"No, I don't.  I don't belong here.  I don't belong anywhere!"  and, still, I refused to come out.

Hearing this conversation, my Mother sat on the side of the bed and asked if I would come out when supper was ready.  I said I would try.  My parents left the room, but I could tell they were amused at my predicament.  Children say the funniest things.  It didn't seem funny to me.  

I don't know what prompted this feeling of not belonging.  I think it was always there.  I think it's still always there.  I suspect moving had something to do with what made it worse that day, but it might also have been that my difficulties in communication were beginning to surface.  I was becoming aware that I couldn't say what I was trying to say.  The stutter made it difficult for me to string the words together in a way that expressed what I meant.

Without the sanctuary of Martha Hammond's kitchen, when not watching television, I began sitting in the window seat to the breakfast room, where I could watch my mother as she organized the household.  Without communicating, I could watch the actors cross the boards of this household drama as I became increasingly detached from it.

One day, my mother loaded her car to take my brothers to baseball and do the grocery shopping, leaving my grandmother and the maid to watch over me and the baby.  This wasn't all that unusual, but something unsettled me.  As they drove away, I ran to the window seat to watch her station wagon go down the driveway, then to the front window to see them drive down Honeysuckle Lane to turn on Meadowbrook Road.  

Something panicked me.  I ran out of the front door and ran to the edge of the lot, as close as I could to stepping a foot on the forbidden Meadowbrook road.  "Mamma!" I cried.  "Mamma!  Mamma! Come back, Mamma!"  If I screamed loud enough, maybe she'd hear me and come back.  "Mamma!  Don't leave me!" I shouted.  Hattie, the maid, heard the noise I was making and came out to find me.  

"Come on inside, Mr Boyd.  You know she'll be home directly."  She said, trying to pull me away from the street.  I dropped to my knees, "Mamma!  I'm still here, Mamma!  You left me!  Don't leave me!  I'll be good!  Don't leave me!"

The crying made it hard to speak, even hard to see.  I curled up in a ball on the front lawn.  Hattie picked me up, carried me inside, and put me on the bed in my grandmother's room.  Nanny sat on her rocking chair beside her bed and assured me that Mother would be home and everything would be alright.

This memory would come and go and change places many times in the conversation in my mind.  It's held different meanings for me at different times in my life.  First, Hattie, the maid, died, then Nanny, my grandmother died, then my Mother died.  Sometimes, this memory returns now as a nightmare when I remember my mother is gone in my dreams.  No amount of screaming or calling her name will bring her back.  Consciously, I know this and can deal with it rationally, but when I close my eyes to sleep, the rational world loses its grip, and I'm a little boy who hides under beds again.  

There have been times when I lost so much and lost so many people that I began to wish I would be the next one to go so that I wouldn't again be the little boy crying fruitlessly for somebody to come back on the corner of Honeysuckle and Meadowbrook.  Maybe I was an insecure child because, even as a child, I knew life doesn't last.  You have to live for the moment because the moment is all you have.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Landon Talks. A Lot


A teacher at the Laurel Magnet School of the Arts and former winner of the Mississippi Educator of the Year, Landon Bryant is the creator of the insanely popular channel LANDONTTALKSALOT, where he discusses the fine details of Southern Culture in a way that reminds anyone from here of being here.  

He's on the advisory board of the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel.  A 2014 BA graduate from the University of Southern Mississippi, His wife Kate is a painter and journalist, also living in Laurel.

With the success of Ben and Erin Napier's "Home Town" on cable TV and now the sensation surrounding Landon, the renaissance of Lauel is unmistakable like a firework at night.

Laurel was one of the first locations of the Office Supply Company outside of Jackson.  It's there that my Uncle Boyd met Alexander and Elizabeth Chisholm who involved him in the career of Lyontine Price.  On my many trips eastward to Laurel, I soon became enchanted with its picturesque downtown and the old homes off the square.  

Landon's videos have a hypnotic quality to them.  They invoke a feeling for your own childhood in your own hometown and a memory for people long moved onto another plane.  

Fresh out of college, Landon and Kate's first apartment with their baby burned to the ground with all their belongings.  Local fundraisers helped them get back on their feet without any hint of the massive success coming their way.  

Landon Talks A lot -- Youtube

Landon Talks A Lot -- Instagram

Landon Talks A Lot -- Tic Tok

The Coolest Kate -- Instagram

Katelyn Bryant -- Facebook

Friday, September 1, 2023

Fox In A Trap

When I was a boy, I heard the story of the fox who chewed his own leg off when it was caught in a trap.  I have no idea if this ever actually happens, but the story was applied to many things, particularly stories about girls you didn't mean to get with and guys who played football for Mississippi State and kept chewing off the wrong leg.  

In my second year in college, I became entangled with a girl from the Mississippi Delta.  She was descended from Washington County royalty and knew it.  She could, and often did, out-shoot and out-drink me.  Our time together nearly got both of us kicked out of college.  After that, she left Millsaps for Mississippi State to get sober and marry a boy who wanted to be a dentist, but never made it out of dental school.

After that, I figured keeping one special girl was asking for trouble, so I avoided it and adopted them all, mostly Chi-Omegas, but I married a Kappa Delta.  

There was, of course, one special girl, but apart from a few wanton glances and moments of electric passion when we touched in ways we weren't planning to, we never discussed it.  Not discussing it didn't keep me from getting written up several times for staying too late in her dorm.  There were more than a few nights when Ken Ranager and I would together seek an escape route without getting caught.  He was really very good about it and about as willing to go out a window into the limbs of an adjacent live oak tree as I was.  Trees and climbing things were intricate parts of my college experience.  

After college, I tried again to make one girl more special than the others.  A lot of my friends were doing it.  She turned out to be a pretty neutral experience.  Lots of fun and not much drama.  I wasn't the only boy on her dance card, but she wasn't the only one on mine either.  After about a year, it was pretty clear this wasn't going anywhere, even though she talked me to sleep on the telephone nearly every night.

After that, there was this girl who was going to be a sophomore at Millsaps.  She wasn't really my type at all, but she kept talking to me and asking about my day, what I did with my life, and what happened to that girl who called all the time.  She was very pretty, and she was absolutely determined to be a part of my day if not part of my life, even though we had absolutely nothing in common.  

Her hair was a mass of blonde curls, enormous and rigid, like a light helmet, but attractive if you didn't try to touch it.  Bid day was coming up, and she labored mightily all Summer for Phi Mu to make sure they had a great year.  There supposedly was a boyfriend somewhere in her life, but he was in-again and out-again, and on bid day, he was out-again, so I told her I'd take her to dinner, and then we could go to the KA house and CS's to see her pledges running around.

Taking her to dinner at the Mayflower, she began to cry as we passed the courthouse.  I pulled over and held her hand while she got her cry out.  Asking her what was wrong was fruitless.  "A bad day" was all she said.  I assumed it had something to do with Mr. out-again, who was at Mississippi State.  Even though she lived here, she'd never been to the Mayflower before.  After dinner, we went to the KA house to watch the madness, where I pointed out to her and the active members where we planned to put the addition with the concrete room and the fancy patio behind.  I would spend the next two years raising money for that and getting it built, even though the architect seems to have screwed us over on some aspects of it.

At about two in the morning, I took her to where she parked her car by the library under the Academic Complex.  For a little over an hour, I leaned against my car and held her as tight as I could.  Lightly kissing and lightly talking, it seemed really important to her that I hold her and keep holding her as the night hours slipped by.  "It really must have been a bad day," I thought.  This was a wounded creature hiding in my arms in the night air.  I'd experienced that before.

About a week later, a mutual friend asked if I was going to see this girl again.  "I dunno.  Maybe." I said.

"I just feel so bad about what's happening with her daddy."  My friend said.  This was the first I heard anything about this.  Maybe this is what was behind her "bad day."  Her father, it seemed, was in a federal prison in Texas, having been sentenced at the courthouse we passed on the way to the Mayflower.  

In high school, my steady girlfriend's father shot himself, and I found the body. I spent two years unsuccessfully trying to fill the hole he left in her life.  Now God sent me another broken bird with a missing father.  I didn't mean for this to be something I did with my life.  It wasn't fair, though, for me to have more than I needed when some people didn't have enough.  

I called for another date.  This time to Scrooges.  In the parking lot, before we got out of the car, I held her hand and said, "I know what you've been going through, and I just wanted you to know that I'm your friend."  

I'm sure she intended to tell me sometime, but she wasn't ready for me to know without her telling me.  There's some embarrassment in people knowing your daddy is in prison, on top of all the devastating emotional losses that come from him losing his liberty; all of these feelings were crashing over her like a flooded creek in a rainstorm while she gripped my hands for her very life and did her best to push out the pain by grinding her back teeth together, lest she scream.

Fortunately, she didn't wear much makeup, despite the elaborate engineering that went into her hair, so it didn't take much effort to repair her face in my rearview mirror when the tears stopped and we went inside.  This was during the era when Scrooges had a different quiche every day, despite the popularity of the book "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche."  I had that, and she had a chicken sandwich, and we talked.  We talked in the sort of way that people who no longer have secrets talk.  Even though it hadn't happened yet, we talked in the way that people who had seen each other naked in the stark reality of daylight talked.  

"If Daddy doesn't come home, I don't know if I'm gonna make it.  If my life doesn't get better, I don't know what I'll do."  She said.  "I'm doing the best I can, but some days, I just can't."  She said.  Was that a threat?  Was she saying she might do something if her father didn't come home?  Would something happen if he didn't?  Would she break?  Why was this happening in the path of my life?  Was I supposed to do something?

I let her talk.  I wanted to hear all of what she was thinking and what her plans were.  Forever after that, I became something of an expert at gauging her emotional health by the words she used and the way she moved her face and hands.  

After dinner, taking her back to her car, which was outside my apartment at Pebble Creek, I again leaned against my car with her deep in my arms for an unnaturally long time.  "Look," I said.  "I'm only twenty-three, and I've never done this before, and I really don't know what I'm doing--but I'm going to do my best to get your daddy home.  You're not going to make it the end of his sentence."

She pushed her face deep into my chest.  Soon my shirt was wet with her tears and then my skin underneath as her nearly silent sobs floated out into the night air.  I wasn't really that interested in this girl, but she was in a great deal of pain, so I committed myself.  No one should feel that much pain.

Over the next year, I talked with lawyers and judges.  Sometimes as a personal favor, sometimes for a fee.  I educated myself on the consequences of federal drug charges and the parole system.  I knew something about parole from my brother's experience, so I wasn't starting from scratch.  It didn't look good.  He had prior convictions, which was part of why his sentence was the way it was.  From what I could tell, it looked to me like he was covering for somebody else.  I knew about some of his associates, and they were pretty unpleasant guys.  

That next Spring, she told me she might not be able to go back to Millsaps the next Fall.  Something had gone wrong with her student loans, and she didn't know what she was going to do.  I called Jack Woodward and asked if I could buy him lunch.  He said he was gonna eat at home but to come by his office.  In his office, we discussed the situation, and he was able to find some more money.  What shortfall was left, I'd give him a check for, and he'd put it in one of his many spent-out scholarship funds and award it to her without her ever knowing I was involved.  We'd made that deal before.

With her junior year at Millsaps assured, I moved on to work on her father's upcoming parole hearing.  It didn't look good, even though he'd been a model prisoner.  What happened next, I can't really talk about.  There were other people working on his parole hearing for very different reasons from mine.  We were able to come to an understanding.  There were no guarantees, but the outcome looked much better than it did before.  

The next time I saw the friend who had originally told me this girl's father was in prison, I told her that I thought there might be a chance he'd be home before Christmas.  Then I said, "If this happens, then I'm going to separate myself from this girl as much as I possibly can.  I've gotten in way over my head, and it's not going to end well no matter what I do, but if I end it now, then it won't be that bad."  I'd developed feelings I never intended to have.  I developed them by spending a year trying to pull this girl's oxcart out of the ditch she found herself in, and now I was stuck.

Going into exams for the Fall semester, I met with her to say that in a few days, she would hear the outcome of her father's parole hearing, and I was praying for them both.  I gave her an envelope with two one-hundred dollar bills in it, with instructions to use it to visit her dad in Texas before Christmas to help restore her mental health.  Within a few days, she received word that he was paroled.  She and her mother and little brother used the money I gave her to go pick up her father so the family could be home together for Christmas.  

In my mind, my part in this story was over.  I'd stuck with it long enough to see happen what I said I wanted to happen.  My own well-being was in jeopardy, so I formulated an escape plan.  I went to Albrittons and got a drop with an opal surrounded by diamonds and amethyst.  These parting gifts were a pretty silly ritual I'd adopted to end relationships.  After New Year's, I arranged to meet her at The University Club for dinner.

One of the reasons The University Club didn't make it was because they were never very full.  By the end of dinner, we were the only people in the restaurant, but the bar was pretty lively.  I ordered a cigar from the girl with the cart, lit it, and pushed the gift box in white paper toward my friend.

I explained that we'd accomplished what we had set out for.  I fulfilled my promise, and it was time for me to go.  She began to cry.  She didn't understand.  "Look, I can't have feelings for you when you don't have feelings for me.  That's a disaster that can only get worse.  You have to let me go.  Your life is pretty good now.  That guy from Mississippi State wants to talk again.  Your daddy's home.  It's time for me to go."

"No." She said.  "There has to be another way."

"Look," I said, "I'm not going to hang around like some sort of mascot.  There's probably somebody out there who wants to be as devoted to me as I was to you.  If you don't let me go, I won't ever find them."  That part wasn't true.  The future didn't hold anyone who had that kind of devotion for me.  At twenty-four, I thought, surely that's how the world works.  I'd put myself in harm's way enough times that surely there would be somebody who just wanted me to be comfortable and was devoted to that.  I believed that if you gave life enough time, accounts would balance out, and life would be fair.  That wasn't the case.    

For months this woman tried to talk to me, to hug me, to ask about what was happening in my life.  Eventually, it started to really bother me that she wouldn't just let me go.  I felt like I'd been really fair with her and really done my best for her.  I deserved to have enough space to get over all this and move on to whatever was next in my life.  She didn't understand that.  Slowly, I started to really resent it.  I started saying really hateful things when she tried to talk to me.

One day, she said, "Sometimes, when you look at me, it looks like you hate me!"  

"I don't hate anyone," I said.

She threw her arms around me and wept.  She wept with the same passion and resignation she had that night we went to the Mayflower.  She was back with the boy from Mississippi State again full-time.  She knew that I knew that.  Soon she'd be showing everyone the ring he got her.  

Through her tears, she said, "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry."  Still crying, she pulled away and said, "But I understand."  And I didn't speak to her again for five years.


When my father died, a great mass of people came to the reception at the funeral home.  I stood in line for most of the day, shaking hands and receiving well wishes.  Most of it wasn't really very emotional to me, mainly because of the sheer volume of people coming through.  Although my friends came too, there would be what seemed like hundreds of my dad's friends between them.  I was holding up pretty well.

Toward the back of the line, near the staircase, I caught a glimpse of blonde curls.  "I really hope that's not her."  I thought.  I didn't look back again.  Soon, I could feel her presence.  I focused on the people in front of me so as not to betray my emotions.  Suddenly, she was the face before me.  I froze.  The muscles in my back began to twitch.  I could smell her.  

She reached up and threw her arms around my neck.  We both began to weep.  The line stopped, and then, realizing we were in a moment, they began to move around us.

"I'm sorry,"  I said.  "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean any of those things I said.  I said some really hateful things to make you go away.  I didn't mean them."  I said.

She held my face with a trembling hand and kissed me one last time.  "I believe you."  She said.  "I understand.  Please be happy."  She said, and pulled me tight, and held me for what seemed like hours.  Then she turned and walked away, and I never saw her again.

From other people, I would learn that her father returned to prison and would die there.  Her marriage turned out pretty well.  Her sometimes boyfriend decided to be full-time.  Some people thought my story was really sweet.  Some people thought I was a fool.  To me, she told me she didn't think she would make it if her life didn't get better.  Her life did get better, and she did make it.  Whatever part I had to play in that didn't really matter because I wanted to make sure she made it.  It was her life, not mine.  What I got out of it was the story.  I can't say that a story is as good as somebody who loves you and takes care of you forever, but it's not bad.  She was never my type anyway.  

Friday, August 25, 2023

Reading The Other Side

If I'm going to write about what happened in the sixties and early seventies, I feel like I need to be able to at least understand and articulate the opposing viewpoint, even if I don't agree with it.  

In Mississippi, most of the argument in favor of segregation came from the Citizens Council, and most of that came from Bill Simmons.  There's such a vast gulf between the things the guy said and wrote and my personal experience with him that I struggle to rationalize it all, and yet it's all true.  

No one sets out to be a villain.  Everybody believes they're working for the greater good.  Medgar Evers thought he was working for the greater good.  Bryan De La Beckwith thought he was working for the greater good.  Obviously, they weren't both correct.   Either that or the actual greater good isn't something we can understand.  

Most of what Bill Simmons wrote, I attribute to what Stephen Jay Gould called "biological determinism," or what I call "really bad anthropology."  What really helped me with all this was Richard Dawkins' theory on "The Selfish Gene," where he introduced the idea of the "meme" as a unit of cultural evolution to help the gene maximize inclusive fitness.  

There's an awful lot more to the word "meme" than funny pictures of cats or animated gifs from 90's sitcoms.  "Meme," as Dawkins intended it, could be the key to everything.  Once you infest yourself with a certain set of memes, then everything Bill Simmons ever wrote and everything Bryan De La Beckwith did starts to become understandable.  They're serving not truth but a meme, and that meme serves some level of genetic inclusive fitness.  

The wrongness of what these men said and did was the result of the selfish gene and the memes it spun to protect its agenda.

George Lucas simplifies the story so that red light sabers mean bad and light colors mean good, and that makes a great story, but there's more to it than that.

I'm starting these stories with the idea that everybody in the are trying to do what's right, but there's a big difference in what they all consider "right" to be.  Everybody is working to serve the memes they start with, but everybody starts with different memes.  

It's possible that the same flaws in my brain that make it difficult to read or speak also give me a way to see these things differently.  Either way, every time I turn on the television, I see where an old enemy of my culture has returned.  Understanding them is vitally important.

Thursday, August 3, 2023


Every once in a while, somebody will say, "yeah, Boyd, but which one did you love the most?  There were a lot of them, but which one do you think about the most?"  That's a challenging question.  Obviously, I think about it often, but do even I know the answer?

Some of them came to me because I was headed in the same direction they were headed, and it's nice to have somebody walk with you for a while.  These were a lot of fun, but they weren't my favorite because, as nice as they were, there just wasn't the passion I was looking for.  They were great companions for a while, though, and I'm very grateful for their time.

Some of them found their lives in a jam and needed somebody who had more than they needed, so they could have some of mine.  Those weren't my favorite, but they were right, I had more than I needed, and they were in a jam, so it worked out. 

Some looked down the road ahead and were really very worried about what they saw ahead.   They had a pretty good idea about how much they could take, and what was ahead looked like it was much more than that, so they needed a bigger, stronger friend to walk with them for a while and soak up some of the arrows so they could get to the peaceful part of the road, a little further down.  That's not my favorite either, but I didn't really mind, and they were right; I could absorb more arrows than they could, at least for that part of the road.  

Some thought I'd be very different from what I was.  They thought they wanted somebody like my dad, and while I can sound like him sometimes, I'm a very different person.  These were nice, but they weren't my favorite because they never really got to know me very well.  They moved on once they found out I wasn't what they thought.  

Some lived their lives drowning in a puddle of pain.  The world didn't always see it, but it was always there.  Sometimes, under the right conditions, I could act like a sponge and soak up some of that pain and wring it out away from them, and for a while, they could live free of the puddle.   Those could have been my favorite because it's really rewarding to see somebody in pain live without it for a while, but it was always just a while; no matter how hard I tried, the pain always came back and filled in where I had taken it away.  

I don't think I was ever supposed to love one the most.  I think I was supposed to be a bridge through uneven terrain for people who were afraid of what lay on the road ahead.  You're not supposed to stay on a bridge because that blocks the other people who need to use the same bridge.  Bridges can be really cool and really beautiful, but they're not a destination.  They're a way to a destination.

For the most part, I'm happy with the role I've played in all their lives.  There are some companions where I wish I could have done more, but that's kind of my nature; I always think I could have done more.  I never asked to be a knight-errant, but I've never been unhappy with the role.  Alonso Quijano lost his mind and became Don Quixote, but some would say he found it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Where Do The Children Play?

Our mom's generation tells us about how they would put on starched cotton dresses with half a dozen petticoats and white kidd gloves and go shopping downtown with their friends.  Everything they could ever dream of was in three or four stores, and their entire school, which was the entire town, would have hamburgers and milkshakes and cokes at the Woolco lunch counter, and she'd talk about how great it was, and it was great.

My generation tells their children about how they put on the coolest stone-washed denim mini dress, half a bottle of aqua net, and twist beads and went with their friends to the mall.  Their entire school was there, and the kids from all the other schools and we'd meet in the foodcourt and have those corndogs they make in front of you and Orange Julius, and then maybe go play a video game, and we'd talk about how great it was, and it was great.

Our kids talk about how they'd call each other on Skype but not turn the camera on because their hair looked like shit, and they were wearing the same hoodie they wore the night before, and they'd log into Amazon and see what the prime deals were.  When we asked why they never go out, they said the mall is gross, and it's not safe downtown, and they'd talk about how shit it is, and it is shit.

We could have made a world for them where the malls were cooler than ever and shopping downtown was beautiful and safe for everybody.  We could have done it, but we didn't.  We tried to make a world like that, but your mom had that operation, and maybe I had a couple of affairs, and it's not our fault anyway; it's the woke liberals and the conservative fascists.  You don't know how hard it was to raise yu kids, and I fucking hate my job, but I did it for you! It's George Soros and Bill Clinton and Donald Trump--they did this; I was just trying to live my life, man; nobody told me it was gonna be like this.  Nobody told me it was up to me!

When you get my age, you start looking around, and that guy in Washington was in your pledge class.  That guy in the governor's mansion was on your brother's baseball team.  That chairman of the bank used to try and call your sister, and you took his ex-girlfriend to the prom.  We made this world.  It wasn't somebody else.  It was us.

Every day, I talk to guys who want to blame somebody else, some other party, some other culture, or some other part of the country.  It's a lot easier to sleep at night when you think it was somebody else who did this.  It's a lie, though; we did this.  

Our kids are graduating high school, graduating college, and some are hitting that thirty-year goalline.  Pretty soon, we'll be handing the ball off to them.  They won't know we're handing the ball off to them because you never realize you were carrying the goddamn ball until you're sixty and look back on what happened in your life.  This is the world we made.  This is the world they'll make.  Maybe they'll do it better.  

Oh, I know we've come a long way
             We're changing day to day
                         But tell me, where do the children play?

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Gun Statistics - Real Life

 Here on the front end of sixty, here is the tally on my experience with guns:

A few dead deer.  Several dead ducks and doves.  A few dead squirrels, which I feel bad about because we didn't eat them; we just killed them.  

Three near-fatal accidents.  Three accidents where only property was damaged.  Six suicides and two suicide attempts.  Two murders.  Three armed robberies and two assaults with a deadly weapon.  

What I have yet to experience is anybody using a firearm to protect life, liberty, or property, including the police.  I've heard of it happening, but I have yet to witness it or have it happen close to me.  

If you look at the FBI statistics for Mississippi, my experience is pretty normal.  Despite what the NRA says, you're statistically more likely to accidentally shoot yourself or someone else than you are to use a gun to defend yourself.  You're also more likely to use a gun to kill yourself.  Whatever effect the 2nd amendment hoped to produce, this is what it did produce.

The other argument in favor of the NRA's interpretation of the 2nd amendment is that it gives us what we need to defend ourselves from a tyrannical government.  Well, we tried that too.  The result was Jackson burned to the ground, and Vicksburg was under siege for so long people were eating rats and mules to survive.  Our economy was destroyed, our railroads unusable, and more than six thousand Mississippians were dead.  People like to say we killed more Yankees than they killed of us, but that's not true.  Mississippi was a turkey shoot.  We've received accolades for fighting as hard as we did, but we were brutalized, and the right to bear arms didn't help us.

Reasonable gun laws start with looking at things how they really are, not how we'd like for them to be.  I don't know why we're not using guns more to protect life and liberty, but at the moment, you're a lot more likely to take these things with a gun than to protect them.

Whatever the intention of the 2nd amendment was, whatever the potential the 2nd amendment has, the result we're getting now is the exact opposite. Clearly, we're not interpreting this correctly, and since one organization is almost entirely responsible for how we interpret the 2nd amendment, the fault pretty clearly lies with them.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Don't Keep Secrets

My wife and I used to argue because she thought my version of her was a lot more optimistic than what she saw in herself.  I think one of the reasons she wanted to get married was that she wanted the things I said about her to be true.  

When a child loses confidence in themselves, we have a tendency to blame the parents, but in her case, I knew them before I knew her, and that wasn't the problem.  

Sometimes, I think people just have trouble finding the things they're good at.  Everyone has them, but not everyone knows what they are.  A lot of us tend to judge ourselves based on what other people are good at.  I do too.  That's a rigged game, though.  You have your own gifts, and it's utterly unfair to judge yourself by someone else's.

I've loved a lot of people where I really wanted them to see what I saw in them, just for a few minutes, that if they could see just a glimpse of the power and beauty that I see, it'd make it real for them.  

The girl before my wife had the same problem.  I just wanted to shake her and say, "Don't you see!  Don't you see!" but she never did.  She lived out the rest of her life without seeing what I saw.

I used to write really long letters explaining exactly why I felt about someone I loved the way I did.  I think maybe that might have helped me share my vision with these girls, but someone came along before them and made fun of it, so I gave up on the practice; now, the opportunity to share this is lost to time forever.   

Don't just tell people you love them.  Tell them why, and don't assume they already know.  They often can't see it, but you can. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

I Didn't Like The Nursery

I always felt like being an introvert like I am was such a disappointment to everybody, particularly my mother.  She tried so hard to get me to socialize with other kids, and it almost never worked.

We tend not to think of kids with learning disabilities as "disabled", but if you can't speak normally, or read normally, you feel far more different from the people around you than you really are.

I remember when I was five, and my sister was two, my mother took us to the nursery at Galloway, so the rest of the family could attend church in peace.  Jim Wilkerson and Jim Moffett were already in there running around like they owned the place, knowing exactly where all the toys were and how they worked.  My sister was over with the toddlers, organizing a group of ten, planning a day when they'd all wear the same color pull-ups and the rubber pants with the lace ruffles on the bottom.

I don't remember who the other women were, but my mother was talking to Mrs. Keyes and pushing me out in the play area, pretending I wasn't resisting.

"I k...., I Ka...., I k-k-k a, I can't go over there!" When I'm nervous, my words don't come.  They especially didn't when I was little.  Normal stuttering, I don't mind.  I'm older than Moses now, and I'm used to it.  Those times when the words just won't come though, when I can't get past the first two or three syllables without having to start over, even now, that makes me feel inadequate.  When I was little, it made me feel like an alien.

I looked up at my mother, doing my best to plead with my eyes without actually crying.  Crying would just make it worse.  "Please take me home," I thought.  "Please, please, please take me home."  I tried this playschool thing.  I really did.  I wanted to be a good boy, but my words broke, and now I'm gonna cry, and if I cry, what's next? Will I wet my pants too?  "please take me home.  Please, please take me home."  

One of the things that started to drive a wedge between my mother and me was that she pushed me to the very limits of my disability.  It was absolutely the right thing to do.  Without it, I would have remained hidden where it was safe forever and never sought out ways around my disabilities.  It separated me from my mother, though.  She was no longer the place for safety and comfort.  The only place where I found safety and comfort was being alone, and that's where I stayed most of the time for the next fifty-six years.  

You really can't question a mother's love.  She might have even known that pushing me beyond my boundaries might push me away from her, but it was more important that I go out and stretch my wings than staying cuddled under hers.  That's a horrible choice to make, but sometimes life is about horrible choices.

You can't really tell that I stutter now.  It seems like an illusion to me like I'm putting on some sort of performance.  If I let my guard down, or if I'm caught by surprise, my words still break sometimes though.   It's absolutely unnerving, even now.  Working through my stutter conceals my shame and provides me with false confidence.  When the illusion breaks, I feel dishonest, like a magician might if a curtain falls down unexpectedly and his entire illusion apparatus is exposed.  

I'm sixty yeas old, but I still stutter and I'm still dyslexic.  It's who I am.  I learned ways to disguise it and work around it, and even sometimes make it work for me, and that I owe to my mother, who made me stay in the nursery, even when I was terrified and begged to be brought home.  

Friday, July 14, 2023

Journal July 14

I'm trying something different with my journal.  I can tell how many people read, so if nobody reads these, I'll go back to just keeping them to myself.

I went adventuring in Fondren tonight, using my motorized scooter.  I'm still hoping to eventually get to where I don't need assistance getting around, but that's proving slower than I had hoped.  

A new physical therapist is supposed to see me not next week but the next and work with me to figure out safe ways for me to use the leg press and the leg extension machine at Meridian Apartments.  If a leg press doesn't resolve my leg strength issues, I don't know what will.   Doing laps around my apartment in the wheelchair does a pretty good job of elevating my heart rate for aerobic fitness until I can use a stepper or something similar. 

My goal tonight was to find ramped access to everything I might be interested in entering in Fondren.  I found ramps to everything but Saltine.  I'm sure they have one; I just haven't found it yet. 

I've run thousands of bar tabs in my life, just not any in quite a while.  Getting a bourbon and branch at Fondren Public felt very comfortable and very familiar.    My doctor says I can have only one.  That's ok by me.  I exceeded my maximum allowance for spending the night obliterated long ago.  One slow one is just fine by me.

Rowan Taylor tried to teach me about really good whiskeys and bourbon.  My mother drank Cutty Sark, which I can't stand.   My dad drank Stolichnaya out of the freezer, sometimes with grapefruit juice if he was on a diet.

Eudora Welty drank either Maker's Mark or Old Crow.  That's fine by me.  If I'm just gonna have one, I'd like to have one with some local history to it.  

Fondren Public has a strong Cherokee Inn in the 80s kind of vibe to it.  From what I understand, it gets pretty lively after ten o'clock.  I, however, do not get very lively after ten o'clock, so I'll probably miss that.   There are three or four bars in Fondren, but this one's a pretty good fit.

I'm probably gonna have to haunt Hal and Mal's bar some.  I've spent many nights there with great music, sometimes commiserating with the local journalists and politicians.

A lot of my life was spent in bars, then after my divorce, I cut it off cold.  Part of it was that I knew my wife really liked bars as well, and I didn't want to make it awkward for her.  I can't spend my life avoiding exes, though.  There are too many of them.    

It took me a couple of weeks to adjust to living here, but I feel very at home now.  I'm still progressing, but it's a struggle to figure out what the pace is.  

I spent about six hours writing today, producing a little over 2,100 words.  Ray Bradbury says to aim for a thousand, so I figure I'm in the good.  Most of today was a conversation between my two main characters, discussing their positions on the main action.  At this point, they don't agree on the best way forward, which will become more of an issue as we go along.  

Even though that's not the point of the novel, I kind of want people to "ship" the two of them.  I don't think they'll end up together, but it'd be nice if people wanted them to if they were invested enough in these imaginary people I created to hope they find happiness.  

The thing about fiction is that all the characters are basically just the writer wearing different hats.  That's probably why most people think they're crazy and why so many of them spend their lives in a bottle.  I don't want to spend my life in a bottle.  I've known some really talented people who did, and I don't want to live that way.  Hopefully, I can create without lubrication.

I've spent a lot of time in bars with a lot of you.  I guess the point of today's journal entry is that those days are back, I guess, maybe in a measured sort of way.  I think that was inevitable.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Broken Promises

My parents worked pretty hard to instill several important lessons in me.  Some I picked up on better than others.  One was that I should always try to be useful and always try to help other people.  That was reinforced pretty heavily when I went to Boy Scouts or Sunday School.  The message was pretty clear.  You're here to have a positive impact on other people.  It might be more important than anything else.

When I was much younger, one of the things that made me really uncomfortable and unhappy was that it was really common for people to make social, even romantic, connections with me just because they thought I could help with their job or some other financial aspect of their lives.  

The end result was a situation where, whenever I met somebody, I'd wonder why they were there and if they really had any interest in me or were they just acting like it so I'd help them out.  The times when that did become a problem, it was almost impossible to tell if somebody was genuine or not, and I made several mistakes when I trusted somebody who was not.  

I don't know that I really blame them, though.  In your twenties, life is kind of a survival game.  Nobody is in a very stable situation, and taking a shortcut here and there can be very tempting, especially if your situation is really upside down and dire.  I don't think anybody ever set out to hurt me.  I think they just got desperate and saw me as a solution to their problem and didn't care enough not to hurt me.  

It was particularly bad with people who struggled with addiction issues.  With an addict, you're dealing with two people.  One is normal and moral and usually really nice, and the other is an animal out to survive however it can, which sometimes meant me.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Writing for my Love

It’s been about a year since I started letting the world read my daily journals or significant parts of them.  I began writing them forty-five years ago, or more, then one day, when I was still too weak to sit up in bed, I thought, “I really should let people know I”m alive,” and started posting extensive excerpts from my journal on Facebook.  

It’s been a fascinating process.  The response has been truly overwhelming.  Having kept all this hidden for so long, I had no idea I could get anyone to read me unless I wrote about big things like dinosaurs and spaceships, like some of my idols.  

Earlier today, the question arose about what the women in my life thought of my writing.  The answer is pretty simple: they didn’t know anything about it.  Some knew I was doing it, but since I said it was my journal, and none of them knew how to find things on my computer, none were ever read.  

I’d only ever planned for there to be one woman in my life.  Instead, there were like twelve.  I think part of the problem was that I was never very honest with them, not nearly as honest as I am with the people who read my blogs.  I think that was a vital mistake.  Even if being more honest wouldn’t have kept any of them in my life, it was still the moral thing to do.  

I always tried to project that I was a counter to whatever challenges were in their life. No matter how storm-ravaged their existence, I was indomitable and immutable, and I could form an impenetrable barrier between them and whatever was hurting them. That’s a lie, of course. I could keep it up for a while, but not forever, and let’s be honest, once the storm passed, it made me obsolete.  Maybe, if I’d shown them the things I write in the hours when the sun struggles over the horizon, it would have opened up a new era of understanding.  Maybe I would have proved more valuable in the long run.

There was one woman; her name means “honey” in an ancient tongue.  She was the only woman I ever courted who knew me from work.  Not from Missco or the ABoyd Company, but from my real work, in this instance, theater and painting.  We played chess and drank coffee and discussed many things.  I don’t know that giving her access to my journals would have changed the trajectory of our lives, but I would have deeply valued her perspective on what I wrote.  I’m really a bit angry with myself, now that I think of it.  

She had the voice of an angel.  Her hands were tender, and her eyes shown brighter than the moon, but I missed having such a brilliant critic and soundboard available before the ink dried on my copy.  We were so horribly star-crossed, I don’t think anything could have made us end up together, but imagine what a difference learning that other people wanted to read my words would have made if I had trusted her to read them.

There’s another woman.  I write about her often.  She had a gigantic smile and bushels of blonde hair, and the world would have thought she was the most cheerful person in it while she was flaying the skin from her own bones in secret and doing whatever she could to numb the pain from it.

That was almost forty years ago, but even now, I feel genuine pangs of guilt for not clearing a path out of the tangled morass of rose thorns she surrounded herself in.  Saving her wasn’t my job, but it was the only thing I wanted to do, and it’s still the one thing I wish I had accomplished that I didn’t.  People tell me all the time that this wasn’t my responsibility and what happened to her wasn’t my fault, but no, that’s a scar that I’ll carry on my back until the day they close my eyes for good.

My plan was to show her that I was stronger than anything that happened to her, stronger than anything she might do to herself, and all she had to do was be calm and let me pull her out of the cutting weeds that grew around her.  That failed. It failed utterly.  

Maybe, if I’d shown her my words, maybe if I’d let her see that I saw and felt the same darkness, the same cold and isolation that she felt, that maybe we could have made a connection there, and maybe somehow knowing she wasn’t alone in what she was feeling might have made her hold on to herself long enough to climb out of the hole she was in.  

I’m aware that I’m describing a scenario where I might have found a way to succeed at something I failed at, and not a scenario where someone from my past would have wanted to stick around and be someone in my present, but it’s really hard to twist my mind to thoughts of what I need.  I don’t think that’s going to change.  At least, in this one instance, the world would have been just a little better if I’d won this battle I fought for somebody other than myself.  

Although I’ve had all these other people playing that role in my life, there’s just the one woman I ever really loved.  We met as children, young enough that we got to see each other’s body change and grow tall.  

Her hands were slender and strong.  Her eyes were the deepest brown, like staring into your coffee and seeing the world reflected in it.  She took my arm many times and escorted me whenever there was a fine thing I had to attend, but I never once tried to express to her how special she was to me.   Asking her might mean she’d reject me, and as long as I didn’t ask, I could always tell myself, “It might have.”  Fifty years later, “it might have” means nothing to anyone but me.

The funny thing is, she studied literature.  While it’s not what she ended up doing for a living, it’s something that was dear to her and important to her.  Imagine what might have happened if I had said, “Hi, these are my words.  I’d really like to know what you think of them.”  Imagine the impact of arranging a meeting between the thing I loved the most and the girl I loved the most.  It was impossible, of course.  I wasn’t willing to show my words to those who didn’t matter; showing them to someone who did matter would have been such a huge risk.  I would have fainted from the anticipation.  

Some of my former dance partners read my words here. Sometimes they ask questions and clarifications of a point. I haven’t yet gotten into trouble for revealing something I shouldn’t have. I try to be sensitive.  I have been scolded for not saying this or that twenty years ago.  That’s to be expected.  I do choose my words differently, knowing someone might read them.  That’s also to be expected, but I try to retain the candor I had when I was writing for myself.  

If I could tell a younger version of me something, I’d tell him to be honest. Trust that people want to see the truth. You can’t be strong enough to heal the world. Its enemies are stronger than your arms, no matter how strong you make them.   You hide this precious thing every day, thinking the world has no interest in it.  You’re wrong; your words are what the world made you for.  

Friday, June 30, 2023

Mississippi Airplanes

 For guys in my dad’s generation, for those who were also from here, there wasn’t much more impressive than an airplane.  Some, like his cousin Ben, went for sailboats instead.  Sailing has the advantage that you don’t fall to your death if the wind goes out of your sails, but you may end up shark food, so it’s a trade-off.

Part of this phenomenon might have been driven by wanting to impress people that there was something more to them than just another country boy, and a machine that can actually fly is a pretty good way to do just that.  In some cases, it was a thing that their parents had only read about.  It’s hard to imagine what that would be like today.  I guess my father never dreamed of such a thing as a submersible that went to the Titanic, so if I got one, it’d be impressive to him, although apparently ill-advised.

Bob Neblett was the first weatherman in Mississippi on the first television station in Mississippi.  He was a weatherman because he was also one of Mississippi’s first private pilots.  Besides doing the news, he was in charge of Mississippi’s only airport, Hawkin’s Field, out by the zoo.  Today, pilots check their phones for weather reports before going out.  Neblett didn’t have that available to him, and NOAH didn’t send out weather reports on the wire, so he learned basic meteorology himself.  When WJTV went on the air, Bob was the only choice.  He also sold ice cream and introduced Mississippians to Reddy Kilowatt.

Serving in the ROTC, my dad wanted very much to be a pilot.  He was in ROTC, so when he went into the service, he would be an officer.  His father insisted.  He was completely ready to fight the Nazis in World War II, but it ended before he graduated, so he served in Korea.  The airforce said he was too tall for a pilot, but he could be an engineer, so they sent him to school to learn this fancy new thing they had called “radar,” and he spent his entire military career listening for Russians flying over the border into West Berlin, and learning the specs of every aircraft on the base.

Most of Dad’s friends were as plane obsessed as he was.  When Brum Day ascended at Trustmark, Trustmark got an airplane.  My uncle Boyd loved trains.  He was part owner of a railroad in North Mississippi for a while, and Missco had a sleeper car they could attach to the City of New Orleans for trips to Chicago and beyond.  When my dad took over, the sleeper car was replaced by a Beechcraft King turboprop airplane.  The first of three, each one a seat or two bigger than the last.  His last aircraft had previously belonged to Roy Clark, the singer, who traded it for a jet.

There are scary moments with airplanes.  The Missco plane was hit by lightning twice and by geese several times.  Ben Puckett, one of his best friends, was flying out of Hilton Head when they crashed and killed six passengers, including Roger Stribling.  Ben had a broken back, and it took him months to recover.  One of Roger’s daughters was in my class.  The idea that this could have been my family was very clear to me.

Not rated to fly a craft the size of a Beechcraft King, my dad had to hire a pilot.  A retired WWII pilot named Tony Staples came highly recommended.  Tony was a square-shouldered, steel-eyed gent with shocking white hair.  

Tony was the most fastidious guy I ever knew.  He was so good at taking care of airplanes that each of our airplanes sold for more than what we paid for them.  While his voice had great power, he used a very controlled tone.  This is a trait often found among pilots whose lives depend on radio communications.

Tony, very conspicuously, wore a gold Mason’s ring.  From what I understand, he never missed a meeting.  He talked to me about it a few times but never pressured me to join.  I was interested because there were several Freemasons in my family, but never joined.

One of my favorite stories about Tony is that once, we were stopped at a small airport for fuel, and inside the fuel center were four young men wearing denim and t-shirts but with their faces painted in elaborate designs.  We assumed they were clowns and avoided them.  Tony never met a stranger and struck up a conversation with the boys and came back reporting that they were a band, and their gimmick was that they never appeared without their makeup.  He even bought one of their albums.  Showing me the album, I could see the artwork of the same four boys in makeup and the words “KISS” on top.  I always heard they did pretty well after that meeting.  

When my dad died, the man who took over his position hated flying, so it was clear the days of our airplane were numbered.  They were having a pretty terrible year and hoped this infusion of cash would improve the bottom line.  Tony had retired, but the new pilot passed me in the hall.  “They’re selling your daddy’s airplane.”  He said.  The comment was more potent coming from him because it meant he was out of a job.  “Things are changing,” I said.  Things are really changing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Rainbow Babies

My friends are very bright.  They teach me things all the time.  I learned a new word the other day.  A “Rainbow Baby” is a child born after a miscarriage.  I’ve been called many things, but it turns out I’m a Rainbow Baby.

After my brother was born, my Mother conceived again.  This pregnancy didn’t last; in the second term, she miscarried.  Sad but undaunted, she tried again six months later.  That time she conceived twins.  They gave every indication of being healthy.  We’re they boys; she would name them John and Allen, after my uncles.  Were they girls, she would call them Joreine and Evelyn, after my aunts.  

The pregnancy was strong and healthy.  Soon Mother’s little family would double in size.  One night, barely into the third trimester, she woke up at our tiny home on Northside Drive with terrible cramps.  Expecting one of the many stomach ailments that come with pregnancy, she ran to the bathroom, where, after a few painful moments, she miscarried the twins into the toilet.  She saw them just long enough to know they were boys.  

Heartbroken, Mother resolved herself to a life with only two children.  My father, and her Mother, tried to console her, but little would.  My father’s job became much more complicated and busier with my Uncle, the paterfamilias, very ill and probably dying.  

As sometimes happens with couples, as my father became distracted and my Mother nurtured the emotional wounds from losing three children in two pregnancies, intimacy between them became rare.  There were pretty emotional severe wounds that had to heal.

Spending a few days at the Broadwater Beach Hotel in Biloxi for the National School Supply and Equipment Association convention hosted by my Uncle’s company, my father’s job became much more visible, as my Uncle died the February before.  

A young couple with recent new responsibilities, they drove to Biloxi with news of Russian missiles in Cuba pointed at us on the radio.  Mississippi was well within striking distance of one of these missiles.  The president said not to be afraid, but everyone was.  It would be another week before he resolved the crisis.  With imminent death in the air, one night after the NSSEA awards dinner, I was conceived in a Broadwater Beach bungalow in the salty air of Biloxi.  I suppose not knowing how many tomorrows there would be brought them together for the first time since the twins died.   

After Christmas, my Mother told my father that she was pregnant again.  Understandably gun shy after two miscarriages, she spent double the usual time at the doctor.  As the young Jim Campbell moved into his new position as the new paterfamilias, the family held their breath, hoping the new baby would be healthy.

Into the first trimester, the doctor reported a solid and healthy pregnancy.  If I were a girl, they’d name me Martha, after my Mother.  If I were a boy, they’d call me John-Allen, after my uncles, a combination of what was to be the twins’ names.  Besides my Uncle’s death, there wasn’t much in life to worry about.  Kennedy averted the Russian missiles.  There was agitation among the Africans in the South, but it had yet to come to a full boil.  Things were good.  By the Spring, Mother decided that if the new baby were a boy, she’d name it Alexander Boyd, after my late Uncle.

On into the second trimester, the doctor expected to hear a fetal heartbeat but couldn’t always.  Some days there would be a heartbeat, and some days there wouldn’t be.  This was long before anything like an ultrasound.  Fetal heartbeats were detected by putting a cold stethoscope on the Mother’s belly.  He said not to worry about it.  I was probably in a position where it was difficult to detect.

Into the third trimester, a heartbeat was detectable but still not reliable.  The doctor could hear it; but some days, he couldn’t.  My parents, especially my Mother, feared the worst.  

Starting the third trimester,  my Mother began finding blood spots in her pants.  Uncertain about what was causing the spots, her doctor prescribed absolute bed rest. 

Still, it was challenging to detect a consistent fetal heartbeat.  The doctor told Mother not to worry, but she felt he wasn’t telling her the truth.  Carter O’Ferral told her I might be in an unusual position, but I might also have an underdeveloped heart.  This was difficult news to hear, but she appreciated the honesty.  Her Mother and a recently hired family nurse and housekeeper tended to my Mother in her bed.

Ten days before my due date, the doctor told Daddy to pack a bag, and Mother was moved into a room at Baptist Hospital.  St. Dominics and University weren’t delivering babies yet.  Most people born in Jackson in those days were born in the same ward.

While my father packed a bag to take his wife to the hospital.  Up in the delta, Bryon De la Beckwith was packing a rifle and heading to a spot in Jackson, near where my Mother was headed.  My father was hoping to bring a life into the world.  De la Beckwith was planning to take one out.

On June twelfth, with my Mother spending the last days of her pregnancy in the hospital, my father received a call that Medgar Evers, the Civil Rights worker, was killed.  Jackson was a tinderbox.  Martin Luther King Jr. was told that Mississippi was too volatile for him to speak there.  Medgar Evers lived here, but on June twelfth, he lived no more.

No one knew how Jackson would respond to the assassination.  There would be several more assassinations in the days to come, but in June 1963, Evers was the first.  Police and sheriff’s deputies from the surrounding counties moved into Jackson in case of a riot.  My brothers and my Mother’s Mother moved in with my father’s parents on St. Ann Street.  My father slept in a chair in my Mother’s hospital room.  Everyone held their breath.  While the world counted out the chances of Mississippi bursting into riots, my family counted out the chances I would be born alive.

Four days later, Mother began to show signs of contractions.  Again, no heartbeat was detected, but the baby was definitely moving.  The specter of a baby with heart problems was very real.  As the contractions weren’t very close together, the doctor said I wouldn’t be born for another day yet.  My father and Jack Flood decided to walk over to Primos and get hamburgers in a sack.  The doctor assured them nothing would happen while they were gone.

When they slapped the red hamburger meat on the griddle at Primos, Mother’s contractions suddenly started coming very close together.  Without cellphones to tell them to come back, my father had no way of knowing that; while he ate his hamburger, my head was crowning, and my Mother held her breath, hoping for a healthy baby.

Daddy and Dr. Flood returned to find my Mother exhausted in her bed while the nurses cleaned the bright red screaming baby.  A baby with a strong, steady heartbeat.  The long three years were over, and the loss of three babies before they were born ended with a healthy live birth.  

They call people like me “Rainbow Babies” because after destroying the world, God gave us the rainbow as a sign of new life and new hope, despite the destruction that came before.  My Mother was a pretty tough person, but losing three children in two pregnancies tested her resolve.  

She tried several times to explain to me what it was like when she saw the twins, my brothers, dead in the toilet, but she could never get through it.  Some images can burn your soul.  Were I not born healthy, she resolved herself that she wouldn’t try again.  Although I was born healthy, the world soon showed signs of breaking at the seams.  By November, Kennedy would be dead.  Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy went the same way in five years.  I was born healthy into a world that wasn’t.  

I’ve tried to educate myself on the things my Mother endured because she endured them for my sake.  I can’t imagine the feeling of carrying a child, not knowing if it was alive or not, and if it were alive, would its heart be strong enough to survive?  We tend to think of mothers as funny haircuts and birthday parties, but it’s so much more complicated than that.  

I was a rainbow baby.  Just by arriving, I marked the end of a very painful few years for my Mother.  I’ve known a few women who went through this.  Even though you never get to meet and know the babies that are lost, their mothers feel their loss just the same.  According to the world, there were four Campbell children.  According to my Mother, there were seven.  We never met three of them, but I was the rainbow at the storm’s end.

Monday, June 5, 2023

First One Awake

 When I was very little, I was always the first one awake, the first one out of bed and out of my room.  I got to turn the coffee pot on and hear the morning farm report that came on at six and started the broadcast day.  Sometimes I saw the static that preceded it and the national anthem tape that was probably made in the fifties.  

Then things started to change.  My father didn't have time for breakfast anymore.  Once I was introduced to the concept of homework, I was also introduced to the idea that if it involved reading, writing, or math, mine was probably wrong.  Eventually, if I couldn't get somebody to check my homework before school, I just didn't turn it in.  I'd rather have a zero for not trying than to be told all the places I was wrong.  

Eventually, my brother down the hall began to change into something very different from what he was before.  One of the reasons I write about him, and try to be really very honest about it, is because there are lots of people who never knew him before he became ill.  I'd like for there to be more to his legacy than what became of him.

Before I learned how broken I was, how broken the world around me could be, how people who don't mean any harm to anyone can suffer for no reason, before all that, I was the first one to get up in the morning.  I loved the morning.  I loved the rising sun and the opportunity of a new day.  

Sometimes, I get all that back.  Sometimes feist-dog pulls the covers off me, and I'm out of bed before the alarm goes off.  Sometimes, I go into the sun thinking, "Boy, I'm lucky!"  But not every day.  Not anymore.  

The world wore on me pretty roughly.  If it was just on me, I think it'd be ok, but when I look around, a lot of people who never did anyone any harm got it a lot worse.  Somedays, the world is a blank canvas ready for opportunity.  Some days the world is a gauntlet testing how much you can take.  

I was a pretty timid boy.  Especially when it came to talking to strangers.  It wasn't so bad with grownups.  I think I was expecting them to understand that I stuttered, maybe even be amused by it.  I always loved the world though, and loved getting out in it.  There are days when I get all that back, and then there are days when I just want to keep the door closed and the lights out as long as I can.  

Mississippi is full of wonders when you're little.  It's full of doubts and fears when you're old enough to see the world as it is.  That glimmer of childhood optimism never really dies, though.  If it didn't die after all the things I did to it, then it's immortal.

The world starts when you turn on the lights and open the door.  The world is filled with challenges but even more opportunities.  There's an imaginary dog that tells me this when I remember to listen to him.

Friday, June 2, 2023

What's In The Box?

A lot of people find things they don't understand are intimidating.  It's a natural reaction.  If you don't know what's in a box labeled "X," it could be anything.  It could be a puppy, it could be a chocolate cake, but it could also be a tiger or a diamond-back rattlesnake.  Until you open the box, you don't know.   Some people find the chance that it might be a rattlesnake much more important than the chance that it might be a chocolate cake, so they presume this box labeled "X" is a threat and act like it.

I think that may be part of what's happening with some of the hate we're seeing lately with transgenderism.  For most of us, me included, the experience of transgenderism is utterly alien and quite far from our daily experience.  We make our physical gender part of our identity, and even people who understand that identity is a construct find it very difficult to see beyond it.   

Over the last fifteen years, a lot of LGBTQ people and their allies have been operating under the presumption that if they raise the awareness of gay and trans people, it will make the larger public more accepting of them.  The idea being that if we open the box and show the contents, people will see it's not a threat.  In many cases, that's worked.  It worked on me.

Some people are so concerned about the possible threat in the box that they don't want to look, even if it's open.  Efforts to raise the awareness of LGBTQ people and normalize their presence make some people feel threatened, like this thing they're afraid of is growing and being "forced down their throat," which is exactly the opposite of the original intent to show that LGBTQ people aren't anything to be afraid of or concerned about.

It's really hard to cross the lines of culture, sexuality, and identity.  These ideas become the core of how people define themselves, and far too many people don't feel confident enough of their own place in society to be accepting of people who are different.  Anytime you see somebody with a chip on their shoulder, jealously guarding their spot in the world, it's a pretty good bet they're going to have trouble with bigotry.  

It's particularly painful to see people who themselves were once marginalized because of their culture or race, or religion participate in the hate and rejection of LGBTQ people.  You'd think they would be the first to recognize this syndrome in other people, and most are, but some become even more reactionary, almost as if their seat at the table will be taken away if they allow someone different to sit next to them.   

This is one of those situations where I don't really know the solution.  I think there's some merit to staying the course and continuing to raise the profile of differently-sexualized people and continue to try and educate people that they are not a threat in any way.  There's going to be pushback.  The slate at the last session of the Mississippi Legislature is a pretty good example of push-back.  Recent political pressure to shut down the LGBTQ clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is another example.  

All I can suggest is, don't respond to hate with hate.  Be firm but understanding.  Fear of the unknown is legitimate; continuing to try and make known the unknown is still the best course.  Maybe cut back on some of these basic cable shows exploiting the lives of teenage transgender people and focus more on the experience of adults.  A lot of people are responding with near violence to the idea of trans people participating in sexed sports.  It's actually a pretty rare event, but concern over it has exploded.  Maybe there's some merit to trying to understand and cooperate with these fears, even though it's really very rare.

Reaching out to people who don't fit the larger cultural patterns isn't a hill most people want to fight on.  It makes people wonder why you can't just go along to get along.  This is something Jesus specifically shows us to do, though.  There's a reason why he made a tax collector his disciple.  There's a reason why he told the parable of the Samaritan.  It's incredibly liberating for your own mind to take these lessons to heart and make them part of your life.  Living without fear of other people is one of the greatest gifts you can I've yourself.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

What I'm Reading - May 10


My dear friend (and former football trainer) gave me a copy of Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey.  I met McConaughey briefly when they were shooting A Time To Kill and had no clue he would be such a powerful and charming writer.  

Part autobiography and part philosophy, McConaughey gives a very frank and candid review of his life and how he managed and interpreted it all.  Greenlights is a very Southern book, both in his experiences and attitude.

Although I primarily use kindle to read now (mostly a matter of storage), some of you may know I'm something of a bibliophile snob, especially when it comes to the physical book.  This first edition of Greenlights (my copy came from the fabled Square Books) is a joy to touch and leaf through.  They use heavy rag paper, almost like expensive drawing paper with a substantial tooth.  It switches between different colors of ink and shades of paper so often that I wonder if this book was printed on a web press at all.  Some of the signatures may be from a sheet-fed press, which is unusual.  

Greenlights earns its spot on the best-seller list, primarily on the strength of the writing alone.  This is a book of life, not your typical Hollywood expose.  It's a book that speaks especially to Southern men in a voice they'll find familiar.

The Screwtape Letters.

I tell people that I"m an agnostic because I am, and I believe everyone is; no matter if they claim absolute belief or absolute disbelief, everyone has questions and doubts.  I've read many Christian apologists through the years, and I can only call Lewis beloved, at least by me.  This is my third time through on Screwtape and probably not the last.  

Written before he lost (and ultimately regained) his faith, Lewis dedicates Screwtape to his dear friend and fellow scribbler, J.R.R. Tolkien.  It's a fictitious series of letters written from a supervisor daemon to his nephew, advising his efforts to collect the soul of an English "client" recently converted to Christianity.  

In this and other works, Lewis makes Christian apology entertaining and digestible.  Lewis has a pragmatic opinion on Christian practices and philosophies, which come through almost effortlessly here.

Like the Narnia books, The Screwtape Letters is a quick read and a staple of English-speaking Christianity.  

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Empathic Life

I'm not psychic by any means, but I am empathetic. It's not that I can always tell what other people feel, but I almost always feel what they feel to some level. I think we're all born with this ability, but learn to tune it out as we get older. If you watch small children, they laugh when other children laugh and they cry when other children cry, even if they don't know what they're laughing at or crying about. As we get older, these empathetic feelings get in the way of whatever we're trying to do or whatever we're trying to feel so we learn to block them out. They're still there though, always there. The problem is that most of the time other people feel angry or annoyed or frightened or distracted and almost always lonely. Feeling those emotions of your own is bad enough, but when you share them from the people you encounter, it can become quite a burden. It can be such a burden, that sometimes I prefer not to be around anyone at all. Feeling nothing but my own thoughts and my own emotions, although quite lonesome at times, is often better than sharing the suffering from the rest of the world. A friend once suggested that I surround myself with happy, successful people and then I wouldn't mind sharing their empathetic experience. There problem there is that most happy, successful people don't usually feel that way, and if they do, they're often almost completely empty inside. There is a payoff though. People do sometimes feel joy, love, laughter and beauty. Sharing these emotions with them can be a privilege. These things are valuable though because they're rare, and sometimes it can be a long dry patch between bright moments. Sometimes I meet people whose need to share what they're experiencing is so great, that being around them almost crushes me. I let them do it though because I can feel how badly they need to share their experience, but it's pretty draining, and afterward I usually need sometime alone to recharge. John Donne said "No man is an island", but he's wrong. All men are an island. We're close enough to signal each other and exchange goods, but ultimately we have to isolate ourselves to keep any identity at all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I Hate Target

I went by Target today because, although disillusioned long ago, I'm still fascinated by marketing and store design and when it comes to these things, particularly class position marketing, Target is the best of the best.

First you have to understand Target makes not the least pretense at reaching the straight male market segment, so my presence there is pretty alien, both for them and for me. I put on my NASA approved containment suit and forged ahead though, in the interest of science.

Target does an amazing thing. They make a living selling consumer goods and household products to women who consider themselves slightly better than Walmart. They have a men's clothing department, but that's only because, shopping for husbands and sons, women actually purchase more men's clothes than men.

Target walks a pretty fine line though, because their customers actually prefer the same brands offered at Walmart and Kroger, so Target has to offer them in the same price range. Since they don't have Walmart's volume, they're probably making less profit on these products than Walmart, even though they sell them for a few cents more. They also have higher per foot real estate costs because they put their stores in locations slightly more visible than Walmart.

To make up the difference, they add a few premium sections to the store. They can't have a premium clothing section because women are pretty particular about where they buy their clothes and the market segment they're going for wants their work and dress clothes to come from boutiques rather than mass marketers. They may be mass market boutiques, but let's not split hairs.

I think Target generates a lot of their profit from their confections, coffee, furniture, and linens sections. The one I went to even had a Starbucks at the front of the store, which is interesting because the Walmart down the street has a Subway in the same spot. When it comes to class marketing, Subway vs Starbucks pretty much tells the whole story.

You could never have a Target for men. Most men simply aren't as attuned to the fine striations of class as women are. Not all men are immune to this type of marketing, but usually the stores who market to men that way are much smaller and locally owned and usually restricted just to clothing. People who try class marketing in typically male stores like hardware or electronics usually fail. They're still out there though, but their customer base is pretty small.

The only stores that have much consistent luck at class marketing to men are some brands of automobiles and sometimes Apple computers. At Lowes or BestBuy though, they actually shun class marketing because they know it could drive many of their customers away, regardless of their income.

Although I recognize class and all it's machinations in human society, I tend to think it's bullshit, so I usually think of class marketing as a fine, seven-layer, serving of bullshit too. One day, I think people will come to realize that all these folks who serve them by observing class distinctions are really manipulating them and there'll be some sort of backlash against it. Until then, I'll visit stores like Target occasionally, just fascinated to see what these people are up to now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Ghosts Among Us

As a lot of you may know, Millsaps is going through some turmoil right now. This is pretty hard for me because Millsaps was always part of my life and will always be really close to my heart.

I'm really having a hard time resisting the urge to call my dad or call my mom to talk about this. I know they're gone, but I guess they're still such a big part of me that I still really feel like I need to talk to them.

I guess, no matter how long somebody's been gone, if you still love them, they're never completely gone from inside you.

Official Ted Lasso