CLASSIC LUNAR – “THE PURPLE DRESS” From June 23, 2010

Mama loves the color purple.  She says it’s Jesus’ favorite color.  When I first saw that dress, I didn’t even know Jesus had a favorite color.

I still have an image of that dress today.  It was nothing special, really.  Even by June Clever standards.  But when I was ten, it was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen.  And it made Mama just as beautiful.

I told her how much I loved that dress.  She must have said something like, “Well aren’t you so sweet.” And that was it.  Nothing more. Nothing more was necessary.

Mama has always been one of those “go-the-extra-mile-for-my-kids” kind of Mom.  She can’t go the extra mile in her actions so much any more.  But when she can, she does.  When she can’t, she emotes as much.  Today is her 90th birthday.  She deserves just some emoting.

When I was a kid, like most kids I guess, I would procrastinate from time to time.  But I got that trait from my Mom or Dad or someone in my family upon whom my therapist can reasonably help me pin that blame.  For argument’s sake, I’ll blame Mama.  That will certainly help me rationalize the way she bailed me out from time to time.

She did some things she probably shouldn’t have.  I remember not having done some school work before going to bed a few nights.  The mornings after those nights, I’d wake up worrying.  I was a worrier.  Like Mama.  I guess she understood me because of our similar emotional patterns.  But when I woke up expecting the worst from the day ahead those few mornings, I found my work all done.  By Mama.

Now, maybe I would be more of a responsible human being today if she had just let her child suffer the consequences of his inaction.  But I credit Mama with the love and understanding I have for my own son.  That I’ve had for almost 26 years now.  And maybe I have done that man an injustice.  If I have, well – he’ll just have to take that up with his own therapist.  Like Mama with her children, I cannot stand to see my child suffer.  Even in the slightest of ways.

One night before going to bed, during my sixth or seventh year, I noticed one of my gold fish was sick.  It was just floating.  On its side.  In that tiny little bowl that it shared with its mate.  I thought it was dead.   It should have been.  And if it wasn’t, then surely it would be the next morning.  I didn’t want to leave the little thing.  I loved the little gold guy.  Mama, as she always did, assured me everything would be okay.  “You need to go to bed,” she said.  So I did.  And I don’t remember doubting her.  She was always right when she gave reassuring information like that.  At least in my eyes.

And.  I was a bit of an idiot as a child.  Thinking back on it now, I should have known that little side-floater would die.  I should have known that no parent or anybody could have saved that fish.  But I went to bed as an innocent and trusting little idiot-boy, never doubting at all the love and strength and ability of that woman.

When I woke up the next morning, I ran into the living room where the fish bowl stayed.   On top of the upright piano.  There was only one fish there.  The sick one was gone.   Mama let me down.  For the first time ever.   The woman let me down.  That was a difficult moment for me.

I walked to the bathroom.  There I saw Mama for the first time that day.  She was just sitting there.  On the closed toilet.  Leaning over the bathtub.  She looked old and tired that morning.  Her right arm and hand were in the bathtub.  She was moving water around.  So very gently.

She had been there all night.  Hunched over that tub.  Nursing that damned little gold fish back to health.

Its mate was happy to have it back in the bowl later that morning.  Mama was happy to get some rest.  After seeing us off to school.  I was simply in awe.

Several years later, I was beginning to grow up.  I was about 9 or 10.  Out in the world.  Or at least out on the block.  In the neighborhood.  Taking care of myself.  Exploring.  Doing things that would surely cause Mama to hemorrhage.  If she only knew.

I wasn’t worrying so much anymore.  Growing away from the love of my life just a bit.

Jimmy Jordan’s older brother, Jickie, helped us build a tree house in the Jordan’s back yard.  It was more of a tree platform.  But is was ours.  The guys’.  Jimmy’s, Jody’s, Johnny’s Arthur’s, Paul’s and mine.

The foundation was triangular.  The flooring was made of equal sized planks.  The planks hung over the joists slightly on the wide end.  Greatly on the narrow end.  As I explored our place, the entire construction, I trusted my friends and their brothers just as much as I had always trusted Mama.  I was growing up.  So I stepped onto the floor that was over-hanging the narrow end of the triangular foundation.  My foot landed on the outside of the joist.  The other side of the plank let go and flew straight up like little Arthur on a seesaw when his large sister Rebecca sat opposite him.

I dropped from our tree platform.  Straight down.  To the ground.  I think Mrs. Jordan’s close line broke my fall just a bit.  But I couldn’t move.  It was my back.

Some neighborhood men made a makeshift gurney.  They carried me to a station wagon.  And to the hospital.  That’s where I remember seeing Mama.

I was in such pain.  I was worried.  Again.  I was crying.  But there was Mama.  Standing in that room.  Wearing that beautiful purple dress.  She took the time to put on that dress before meeting the neighborhood men and her son at the hospital.

I don’t remember anything she said or did.  Maybe she said or did nothing.  She didn’t need to really.  That purple dress said and did it all. It may not seem like much.  But it was another extra mile or ten to me.

And, I’m not Jesus.

But on that day, purple was my favorite color, too.

CLASSIC LUNACY – “DELIVERY ROOM” From February 13, 2012

FROM FEBRUARY 13, 2012

The kid’s name is Princeton Jordan Moon. Some in his family call him PJ. Others call him Prince.    I think his mom prefers that we say, “Princeton” when referring to her youngest child.

I call him “Sweet-P.”

Just a few years ago, Sweet-P was born. He entered his world in one of the most raucous ways imaginable. His mom, my daughter-in-law, was in labor for nearly 14 hours before he finally came to her on February 9. And my son and his wife’s mom were by her side for every minute of that stressful adventure. But there was other stuff going on during that laborious day – stuff that was even more stressful than giving birth.

I wrote about Sweet-P’s birthday shortly after he was born. That was five years ago. I thought I would take the occasion of my youngest grandchild’s birthday to share that Lunacy again:

Here are the most important facts and occurrences of the night of Wednesday, February 8, 2012. My son’s wife had been in painful labor for nearly nine hours when the main event of the evening began. If you don’t know my family, then it’s not what you think. If you do know my family, it’s exactly what you think.

At nine o’clock that night, the only ones in that Mooresville, North Carolina hospital room were my son, of course his wife, and his wife’s wonderful mom. It really was a long, painful and stressful day for my daughter-in-law. And for the other two there. The anticipation, the discomfort, the anxiety and apprehension must have been brutal for those three. But the process was about to begin. And it did.

At precisely 9:05 PM Eastern Time. That’s when all hell broke loose. There was pain. There was jubilation. There was a certain degree of ease and relaxation. Then more pain. More jubilation. More angst. More joy.

It was a two-hour ride on the Myrtle Beach Swamp Fox. An unrelenting roller coaster. Energetic panic, screaming, yelling and God’s name taken in vain. It all came from that room during those two hours that night. It was so bad that the hospital staff became a bit panicky themselves and quickly, yet professionally, entered that room to see what was troubling the mother-to-be.

My account of things here is second hand, so I am taking some fictional liberty. The night nurse, upon hearing the screaming and yelling, burst into the room.

“My God, is everything okay here?”

“He was all over his freakin’ back!” my son explained.

“Who?” the nurse asked. “Has the doctor been here? Is your new son here? Coach Sandusky’s not a family member, is he?”

“We’re getting screwed,” my son replied.

“Look, there’s no need to file a malpractice claim, sir,” the nurse seemed to beg. “We’re doing our best here.”

“Oh man, he traveled!” said my son.

Nurse: “Well, yes sir. The doctor does live in Gastonia.”

Son: “He was hacked!”

Nurse: “Well, we did have to call him away from a cocktail party in Statesville. ”

Son: “What are you doing, Roy?”

Nurse: “Actually, the doctor’s name is Ervin.”

Son: “What the hell are you talking about?”

Nurse: “Look. Your doctor’s name is Ervin. He was at a cocktail party in Statesville, but he is traveling here as we speak, and he is not hacked. He is a professional. He would never show up for a delivery hacked.”

Son: “What?”

“Everything will be just fine,” the nurse said. “Just relax and breath. ALL of you.”

“How in the hell could you miss that shot?” my son asked.

“Sir, we keep immaculate records here,” the nurse responded. “I assure you, no shots have been missed.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“No sir.”

“That last second crap just pisses me off!”

“Look, we are prepared here,” the nurse said. “We leave nothing to the last second.”

“Damn,” my son replied.

“There is no need to curse, sir.”

“What? Uh… what? Oh, never mind. So what’s up with my wife and our baby?”

“Well, sir, I’ve been trying to explain, and….”

“Explain what? When?”

“Sir,” the nurse said, “For the past two hours I have been trying to explain what’s going on and I just don’t…”

“Look, lady, I’ve been beside myself for the past two hours. Do you have any idea how stressful things have been for me and the wife?”

“Well, sir, yes I do. That’s why I have been in and out of this room all night, trying to explain to you that everything is under control, and that you have nothing to worry about. We are doing all that we…”

My son interrupted. “See, here’s where you screwed up, lady. You never, EVER, try to explain ANYTHING to me while the wife, mother-in-law and I are watching a Carolina-Dook game on television! UNDERSTAND?”

“Uh, yes sir. I do now.”

CLASSIC LUNAR – “MANGUM REPORT – REVISED” February 6, 2017

SPECIAL “BEAT DOOK” EDITION OF THE LUNAR REPORT.  FROM NOVEMBER 6, 2009

 

(The original was written and posted about eight years ago, during football season.  Well,this is hoops time!  My revisions only deleted references to that strange oblong leather ball!)

Granddaddy Mangum and Dickie.

Just a couple of side bars here. When my brother, Dickie, was a toddler, he lived with my parents in Victory Village, the married student housing on the UNC campus at the time. Word has it that his first words were, “Beat Dook.”

 

Dean Dome!

 

Two days after my son was born, the wife and I drove him through the UNC campus and past the Dean Dome.  We told him that if he decided to attend NC State, we would disown him. But that if he chose Dook, we would shoot him.

 

Now to the meat of all this. The UNC-Dook rivalry actually began way before either school had a basketball team. It began with a major dispute that involved land and bastard children between the Duke family and my family, the Mangums. (My Mom is a Mangum.) There are details in an article written in the Raleigh News and Observer about 23 years ago. The entire article is below.

Mangum Dormitory

At any rate, the Duke family money went to Trinity College (now Duke University), and the Mangum money went to UNC. And the rivalry began. And it all started with MY family and that miserable Duke family.

One more thing. As they say around here, “Go to hell, Dook!”

The News & Observer (includes Chapel Hill News) (Raleigh, NC)

The News & ObserverMarch 5, 1994

The UNC-Duke rivalry’s hidden side.  Leading families feuded for years
Author: CRAIG WHITLOCK; STAFF WRITER
Edition: FINALSection: NEWSPage: B1Index
Terms:UNC-CH; Duke;

Washington Duke, Willie P. Mangum HISTORY

Article Text:

It happened long ago, in the year 1794, but just as lustful folks are prone to do these days, Taylor Duke ignored the risks and seduced a local gal by the name of Chaney Mangum.  Duke, a weather-beaten Orange County farmer, figured nobody would learn about the indiscretion, least of all his wife. But when Mangum bore his bastard son nine months later, it blew his cover.

It also ignited one of the most enduring blood feuds ever seen in these parts.  The Dukes, for whom the university is named, and the Mangums, some of the University of North Carolina’s biggest benefactors, have been at loggerheads ever since, with the vendetta spreading to the worlds of business and politics.  And more recently, basketball.  

Tonight, the feud resumes in all its glory when the UNC Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils take the court in Durham.  The winner not only will claim basketball supremacy, but will momentarily gain the upper hand in a family feud that has boiled for 200 years.  

Both clans are rooted in the rural villages of Red Mountain and Bahama, in what is now northern Durham County.  On the surface, the backgrounds are similar.  Both families grew tobacco.  Both thrived in business and influenced politics.But family members, particularly during the 19th century, shuddered at the thought that the Dukes or Mangums had anything in common.   Over the years, they’ve battled over politics, competed for higher social standing and, on occasion, lusted after one another.  

William Preston Mangum II, a family historian, says the two sides don’t fuss as viciously as, say, the gunslinging Hatfields and McCoys.   But they don’t exactly get together for Sunday dinner either.”  I don’t want to say hatred, but underlying these two families is a desire to get the better of each other,” he said in a recent interview at, appropriately, the Washington Duke Inn in Durham.   “There definitely are ill feelings.”

Especially noteworthy is how the families took their rivalry to the rarefied arena of higher education.  The Dukes nurtured fledgling Trinity College in Durham, pumping so much tobacco money into the school that its trustees renamed it Duke University in 1929.  Less publicized is how the Mangums directed their generosity to the state university nine miles away in Chapel Hill.  The Mangums were crucial in helping the university survive its first century.   Willie P. Mangum served on the board of trustees for 43 years.   Adolphus Mangum, a professor, helped reopen the school after the Civil War.   Charles Staples Mangum founded the UNC School of Public Health.   Countless other Mangums graduated from UNC.   A dormitory and several academic awards are named after the family.

The campus connection is where the basketball game fits in.  Both teams have jockeyed all season for the country’s top ranking.   Between them, they’ve won the last three national championships and are two of the most successful programs of all time.  All told, it’s one of the most deep-seated and unforgiving rivalries in the nation.

Taylor Duke couldn’t have known at the time that his amorous urges would cause such a long-lasting fuss.   All he knew was that a comely maiden, Chaney Mangum, had caught his eye.  As can happen when such desires manifest themselves, Chaney Mangum bore a son.   At first, the father’s identity was kept quiet and the adulterous Duke was spared any public shame.   But the secret didn’t last long.  The couple had difficulty containing their affection.   One thing led to another, and the still-unmarried Chaney Mangum had another child.  This time, the Mangums identified Duke as the suspected father in both cases.  Angered by his cavalier attitude, they took him to court and forced him to pay $5 a year in child support.   The judgment was no small debt for the prolific Duke, who had 10 other children.

In the 1800s, the feud extended beyond the bedroom and into the! politic al realm.   For a time, the Mangums reigned supreme, although the Dukes did their best to discredit their neighbors.  Willie P. Mangum was the most famous of the bunch.   An 1815 UNC graduate, he served 23 years in Congress.   He was also a founder of the Whig party and ran for president in 1836.   He carried South Carolina in the election, but not his home state — thanks to opposition from people like the Dukes.  The Dukes were fervent Democratic Republicans and were vocal about it, something that caused Willie Mangum no small amount of consternation.

In the 1830s, a supporter wrote Mangum in Washington to report on the political troublemakers back home.   The writer singled out the Dukes, calling them, with uncanny foresight, part of “a Devilish clan.”  The Mangums weren’t above making fun of the Dukes, either.   One 19th century Mangum noted in his will that he owned a horse named Duke.

After the Civil War, the families’ fortunes changed. The Mangums, part of the Old South’s aristocracy, lost virtually everything. The Dukes, on the other hand, made the most of Reconstruction, thanks to tobacco.  Washington Duke, a legitimate son of Taylor Duke, raised bright leaf tobacco and entered the manufacturing side of the business.   Soon he and his three sons had created a fabulously profitable enterprise.  

Suddenly flush with money, the Dukes didn’t hesitate to throw their weight around.  In 1881, for example, residents of eastern Orange County wanted to split off and form a new county.   The leading proposal was to name it after Willie P. Mangum, the former lawmaker.  But Washington Duke nixed the idea.   He vowed to yank the Dukes’ considerable assets from the area if he had to live in Mangum County.   The threat worked: The jurisdiction became known as Durham County.  

The mostly forgotten conflict is detailed in Willie Mangum’s papers, stored at the Southern Histo! rical Collection in Chapel Hill.  “A lot of people have never heard that before,” says William Preston Mangum, the family historian. “But it’s a true story.”

After two centuries, the feud has cooled somewhat, no longer colored by nasty court battles or political fights.   But the two families remain ever loyal to their respective schools.   The Duke kids still go to their university.   And virtually all the Mangums go to UNC.  The bumper sticker on William P. Mangum’s Oldsmobile reveals as much: “Tar Heel by birth, Carolinian by the grace of God.”

Copyright 1994 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.Record Number: RNOB172307

CLASSIC LUNAR – “MY BEST DAY” From January 5, 2010

FROM JANUARY 5, 2010

 

 

January 5, 1985 was a scary day for me.  It was also the best day of my life.

Today is my only child’s birthday.  I have recalled his first day on earth often.  At least once a year for the past 24 years.  Today he is 25.

 

 

When it was time for my son to be born – I mean really time – I wanted out.  I didn’t know how to get out.  All I knew was that I had changed my mind.  I just didn’t want the responsibility.  Now, granted, I had kind of painted myself into a corner on this one.  I mean, I probably initiated the whole thing nine months earlier, and now my wife was panting, breathing, screaming and cussing me from a hospital bed when the nurse threw a set of surgical blues, a shower cap and booties at me. Telling me that it was time.

Time for what?  Time to run like hell?  Time to tell the doctor to keep that thing inside his Mom and to never let it out?  All I really wanted was a stiff bourbon, a few dozen cigarettes and a quiet sandy beach somewhere.  I have never felt as helpless as I felt at that very moment.  Obviously, it was time for me to “man up.”

 

And I did.  But I almost too “manned up.”  I got into the delivery room garb and into the delivery room and thick of things. The wife was pushing and groaning. The doctor was pulling and talking nonsense.  They had to use forceps on the child for some reason.  I was thinking at the time that maybe the Doc had tickets to that night’s game and just wanted to get the little guy out so he wouldn’t miss pre-game cocktails.  The sight of some man I didn’t know, pulling and tugging on the head of my unborn child, especially from that region of my wife’s body, was disturbing.  Especially since I wanted the little guy to stay put forever!  I swear, I think I saw that man put his foot on the foot of the bed to brace himself while he yanked out my child with those big metal tweezers.  Again. Disturbing.

So the Doc was pulling and tugging and wrestling and God knows what else, when my son was finally pulled from his Mom’s womb.  His head was long and distorted and close in size to the rest of his little body.  He looked awful.  I was terribly afraid.  Marva, the Lamas instructor, never told us of this freakin’ possibility.  My baby wasn’t right.  Something was wrong.  About the time that I became convinced that my child would not be normal, the doctor, with a chuckle, said, “Well, it looks like we have another little cone-head baby!”  I swear, if my wife hadn’t had the incredible bone-crunching, blood-stopping grip on my right hand at that time, I would have punched that doctor.  He delivered my deformed baby and then made fun of him!

I do not hit people.  The last person I hit was 7-year-old Johnny Lemon, a few weeks after my 8th birthday.  But I was ready to pound this guy.

At that moment. At that very moment. I became a Dad.  My urge to punch the doctor was my very first parental instinct, and it happened just moments after the birth of my child.

I have never been proud of the feeling I had when the nurse threw those surgical blues at me.  What a wimp I was.  I even failed at the “birthing coach” thing.  One of the nurses on duty sort of showed me how to do it.  She would look at some monitor that graphed contractions.  At the time I thought, “Why the hell do you need to graph pain?”  Anyway, the nurse would tell the wife when pain was coming and say things like, “Okay, it’s peaking now.  The pain is peaking.  You should begin to feel better.  Breath.  That’s it. Breath.  The pain is going away.  You did it.  That was good.”

After the nurse left the room, confident that Dad had been properly instructed on his coaching duties, my wife had yet another contraction.  I was very calm.  I could do this.  I remembered everything the nurse had taught me.  I encouraged my wife as I watched the graph needle climb on the monitor.  I said, “Honey, the pain is coming.  Okay, it’s getting a bit stronger now, but you are almost through this one.”  I kept watching the needle on the monitor.  It climbed almost as high as it could, then dipped.  I said, “There, now. The pain is over.  You should start to…”  At that time the damned needle shot up to the top of the graph like a freakin’ Sputnik launch.  She let out a scream like I had never heard.  That scream was even worse than the one I heard when I told her the year before that my Mom was coming for a visit!  Yeah.  Good job, Coach.

So I will readily admit I was a terrible coach.  I don’t guess I was much better at being a husband, then or even in later years.  But the fathering came so damned naturally.  I cannot explain this.  It simply happened.  January 5, 1985, I became a Dad.  I felt it.  I knew it.  It was natural.  It was real.

It was beautiful.

My son and my dad.

It still is.

My son and his children

Happy Birthday, Matt.

My young son. And best friend.

Thank you so much for everything, my friend.

CLASSIC LUNAR – “LET’S SHAVE” From December 28, 2009

FROM DECEMBER 28, 2009

The New Year.

I love the New Year holiday.  It’s when things start over.  You can go through 12 months of an historic drought, and on New Year’s Day, the average rainfall for the year is either normal or way less than an inch either side of normal.  The drought just ends. And we start over. I love it!

Now this may sound strange coming from me.  Everything I write is based on something that happened in the past.  But I hate looking back.  At least when it comes to saying things like, “Man I’m glad that year is over.  During my nephew’s wedding last February, I threw up on the maid of honor.  In March, my in-grown toenail was so bad the doc amputated.  I was falsely imprisoned in August.”  Whatever.

 

Get rid of all the old crap –the poor financial record keeping, the lack of exercise, the cigarettes, the jeans with a hole in the crotch –  the attitudes.  Get rid of it and move on.

 

To hell with last year, I say.  Let’s look forward.  Good things will happen.  We can make good things happen.  This is our fresh start.  AND – the drought is over!

I remember the holiday season of 1972.  I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.  Until the fall of that year, I had always been kind of a neat guy.

I did let my hair grow long my senior year of high school.  My basketball coach told me one time that a guy sitting behind the bench asked him, “Hey.  Who’s that girl playing on your team?”  But I kept it combed. It was neat.

 

When I went away to college, I felt an obligation to sort of rebel in my appearance.  Make a statement.  I ditched the belt.  I wore long sleeve shirts but left the sleeves unbuttoned.  I was very rebellious, wasn’t I?

But I also grew a mustache and goatee.  I tried for the full beard, but the baby skin left massive hairless and uneven patches on both cheeks.  I kind of looked liked a cocker spaniel after a visit to a drunken groomer.  So I went for the Mitch Miller look instead.

My Mom hated it.   She begged me to shave.  She told me before Christmas that all she wanted for Christmas was for me to use a razor.  I think I gave her slippers.  But at around 11:59pm on December 31, 1972, I used that razor.  I should have been watching Guy Lombardo, but I chose to shave.  Actually, it was kind of painful.  I kept telling myself, “These aren’t nose hairs.  Stop crying!”   I wiped away the tears and showed my Mom.  She loved it.  I hated to tell her that I didn’t do it for her.  I did it for me.  Still she loved it.

It was just time for me to move forward.  So, I say – let’s all shave this year.  So what if your 401K is now worth less than the sales tax you paid on your new “Cash-For-Clunker” car?  So what if you didn’t make it in line in time for a Sarah Palen autograph?   So what if your wife caught you flirting with your child’s first grade teacher?  That was all last year!

Shave!  Move on!

Rejoice.

The drought is over!

And – Happy New Year, y’all!

CLASSIC LUNAR – “ME AND EDDIE” From December 9, 2013

*PLEASE FORGIVE SOME OF THE LANGUAGE IN THIS LUNAR.  BUT I SAID NONE OF IT.  I’M JUST REPORTING HERE!*

cuz-eddie-2“Merry Christmas!  Shitter was full.”

For years I used to say that all I wanted for Christmas was January second.  This Christmas I want something more.  For once I want to watch holiday movies and identify with characters other than Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  That’s what Cousin Eddie said as he emptied the toilet from his RV and down into the city drain system in front of Clark Griswold’s suburban Chicago home.  “Merry Christmas!  Shitter was full.”

clarenceWhy can’t I identify with more wholesome characters like ones from It’s A Wonderful Life.  Like Clarence the angel who said so profoundly, “Remember, George. No man is a failure who has friends?”  bing

Or like Bob Wallace, the Bing Crosby character from White Christmas who said so simply and purely, “We came up here for the snow.  Where’re you keepin’ it?”

 

No.  I identify with a man who owns a horny dog named, “Snot.” snot“He’s cute ain’t he? Only problem is, he’s got a little bit a Mississippi leg hound in ‘im. If the mood catches him right, he’ll grab your leg and just go to town. You don’t want him around if your wearing short pants, if you know what I mean. Word of warning though, if he does lay into ya, it’s best to just let ‘im finish.”

I identify with a back-woods guy who has plastic in his skull:  “They had to replace my metal plate with a plastic one. Every time Catherine would rev up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour.”

I guess there are worse characters than Cousin Eddie with whom to identify.  potterwonderful-lifeMr Potter said to George Bailey, “You’re worth more dead than alive! Why don’t you go to the riffraff you love so much and ask them to let you have $8,000?”  That was mean.  Cousin Eddie is anything but mean.

griswold

When Clark Griswold received a subscription to The Jelly Of The Month Club instead of the substantial Christmas cash bonus he was expecting, Cousin Eddie said, “Clark, thats the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.”

It ain’t ZuZu saying, “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”  But it’s optimistic nonetheless.

And not bad, I guess, for a guy with a plastic plate in his skull!

cuz-eddie1

MERRY CHRISTMAS, Y’ALL!

Stay away from Cousin Eddie’s dog!


CLASSIC LUNAR – “SHOOTING” From June 3, 2014

uptownLook, I’m old. I know very well how grumpy old men like me sound when they speak of such things. And I know that this stuff is written and talked about almost daily these days. So – you younger readers, please forgive me for rehashing the same old complaints against such stuff and generalizing about you younger generations.

But, damn, y’all.

A generation of youngsters who care so little about the safety of their fellow humans, about the sanctity of one’s home and personal property and who care so damned much about gun play, danger and terrorizing their very friends with potentially deadly gun play?

Look, I recently moved from a very rural area in Orange County, North Carolina to a very urban one in our state’s largest city – Charlotte.   Every day on the newscasts in my new city, I see and hear stories of shootings – random shootings where bullets penetrate the walls of the homes where innocent residents and friends are merely gathering for a good time.   This is normal here these days.

I know how terrorizing this can be to the innocents.   I live in Charlotte now, but I lived through that very same terror – with an old friend and a sickly dog – in Orange County.

I met my friend, Kathy, one Saturday night at a place called, “The Trailer.”   A bunch of us had planned to gather at that party place.   It was sort of a Saturday ritual to meet there, but for a while that one night, it was just Kathy, me and Chuck’s mangy little mutt named Hazel, waiting for the others to arrive. It was Chuck’s trailer.  Kathy is a great friend, and I loved Hazel, too.  But, I swear, Hazel was so mangy.  Sweet, but hairless and odor-full.  If you sat down in “The Trailer,” Hazel would beg you to pet her.   So, Kathy and I mostly stood up and walked around while waiting for the others to arrive that night.

About and hour or so after sunset and after Kathy and I arrived to avoid Hazel, a car I had never before seen drove down the driveway and parked just in front of “The Trailer.”   I thought it was the next wave of friends showing up for a simple Saturday night get-together.

I peeled open the brown curtains from the window on the front wall of the single-wide to peak outside.   I didn’t recognize the car at all.   But I saw the figures of three men silhouetted against the light of the single street lamp next to the highway.   I opened the curtains wider and squinted my eyes, trying to make out who was getting out of that strange car.  Suddenly, one of the men knelt down and reached beneath the front seat of the car.   After he pulled out of that car what he did, they all three burst into laughter as they each wrestled for possession of the object.

I knew very well what was going on.

“Kathy!” I screamed. “Take Hazel to the back bedroom! Get on the floor!”

Kathy was startled and afraid.   But she did what I told her to do.   I dropped the curtains and ran after her and Hazel.   We all fell to the floor in that room, covering each other and just waiting for what was to happen next.

“BAM! BAM! BAM!”

Gunfire!   We could hear it penetrate the main living area, near the kitchen, where we had just moments before been standing.

“BAM! CLANK! BAM! CLANK!”

I gathered enough courage to raise myself from the Kathy-Hazel pile and to peak outside through the brown back bedroom window curtains.   There they were. The three men pointing the gun and shooting into “The Trailer!”

Kathy was afraid.   I was afraid!   And poor Hazel lost a chunk of hair she didn’t even have!

And those three guys just kept shooting – and laughing!

I rejoined Kathy and Hazel on the floor and we cowered together until after the gunfire ended.   A few moments later Mike, the other owner of “The Trailer,” walked in.   He was laughing.   So was the leader of a major gang from the coastal town of Elizabeth City – Mike’s friend, Tim, who walked in with him.   Bill, a strong and forceful guy who lived in a near-by town, walked in as well, laughing the entire time.   He owned the gun.

Kathy and I heaved dryly from the stress and from the stench of Hazel.   Hazel kind of loved the attention.   Kathy and I were just happy to be alive.

Those damned kids didn’t care at all about the safety of those inside “The Trailer.”   They didn’t even care about Mike’s own stuff!  They shot out his very own refrigerator!   All they cared about was the thrill of the gun play.   And the terror they caused.   And they laughed.   They each laughed.

What the hell is wrong with the kids of today?   In wonderful cities like Charlotte?   At friendly gathering places like “The Trailer?”   I mean, really?

But then again, how the hell could I know about today’s youngsters in this city?  I am old here on earth and new here in The Queen City.

And “The Trailer” shooting took place in Orange County on North Carolina Highway 54, about five miles west of the campus of the University Of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where Kathy, Mike, Tim and I were attending school, and where Bill, a cop from a nearby town, was dating Kathy’s roommate. The year was 1975!

What I mean to say here is, “Just be careful, children – children of all ages!   You mangy dogs, too.   With any luck, you will survive such nonsense.”

Kathy, Hazel and I did.

You know… Chuck never thanked Kathy and me for saving Hazel’s life that night.   What the hell do you suppose that means?

CLASSIC LUNAR – “MATER WAR” From July 19, 2010

FROM JULY 19, 2010

German Johnson Pink

 

 

What began as a simple tomato war between brothers decades ago has now come to this.    Harassing emails from the son of one of those brothers who rather subtly accused me of neglect.    Well, I stood up to that son.   “Patience is a virtue,” is what I wrote him back.  I guess I told him!

 

Joseph, or “Big Coon” as they called him, left Graham, North Carolina in 1956.    In 1962, he found his way to Florida, hundreds of miles from the nearest North Carolina homegrown German Johnson tomato.

Eugene, “Little Coon” stayed behind.    The lure of the Carolina German Johnson was just too great, I suppose.

Big Coon relied on Little Coon for a number of years.    Little Coon was Big’s best tomato connection.    “Maters,” they call them in Graham.    You say “mater” around those two, and you knew what was meant:  homegrown German Johnsons.

Little was a good brother to Big.    He used to visit Big in Florida during July.  For several years he did this.    And he always brought maters.    Big was in heaven.    Big was big.    A big man.    The maters Little always brought were big enough to, once sliced, cover an entire Miracle Whip coated slice of white bread.    One good slice, Miracle Whip, salt and pepper was all Big needed to do one of his patented inhale whistles.   An inhale whistle is when one breaths in while whistling.  Not out like normal whistles.     The inhale was Big’s indication of total satisfaction.    He always did  that just before taking the first bite of his “mater sandwich.”

There was another brother, Garland.    They called him “Goosey.”    He was the oldest.    One summer, somehow, Goosey got involved.    I do not recall his exact involvement, but I do believe it ultimately led to the mater war.    Maybe he sent Big an unscheduled shipment.    Maybe the maters he sent were bigger than the ones Little always sent.    I really do not recall.    All I know is, the war began when Little brought his family to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, along with a supply of maters for Big.

When Big visited Little’s beachfront motel room for the first time on that trip, he walked right by his brother, his brother’s wife and their two children.    He went right for the maters.    At least this is how I remember the original recollection of the story.   Big bent down and opened the refrigerator where he saw a huge platter of the largest most beautiful display of Carolina German Johnsons he had ever seen.   The wire rack of the refrigerator shelf was sagging from the weight of that incredible harvest.    The inhale whistle was blowing full steam ahead.    Little quickly reacted to this sort of refrigerator invasion. “No, no, Sonny,” Little barked.  “Those are mine.    Here are the ones Goosey sent you.”    Little gave Big the sack.   The paper sack.    The rather small paper sack.    With three of the smallest non-Roman, non-Cherry tomatoes Big ever saw.    Big stood straight up.    His eyebrows almost reached his hairline.    And his mouth popped open so wide the cigar that lived in the right corner of his lips hit the floor.

“What?” Big asked.    Little just gritted his teeth tightly, trying to hold them inside his amazing and sinister grin and rubbed his hands together fast and furious like he was trying to start a fire.   The others in the room just laughed.    Big laughs.    The war had begun.

It wasn’t a real war, of course.    It was all in fun.    Occasionally Little Coon would mail Big Coon a photograph of a mater the size of Big’s head.    One time Big used Carolina mater seeds in Florida soil, trying to grow his own.    It didn’t work.    But Little always made good on the maters.    Big was never hurting for a good Carolina German Johnson.    Not as long as Little had anything to say about it.

Big Coon died in the fall of 1992.    He was buried back in Graham a couple of months after the last German Johnson was harvested in Alamance County that year.    The following summer and a few summers after that, on July 16 of each of those years, I took a single German Johnson tomato and placed it on Big Coon’s grave.   The sixth year, I took two maters.    Been doing two ever since.    Little Coon died July 4, 1998 and is buried right next to Big.    I just can’t take one for Big and leave nothing for Little.

One year, though, probably in ’99, I left a really large German Johnson for Big.    And I left a scrawny little one for Little.    I hope Big and Little both saw the humor in that.    Like all the other years, those maters were placed there in love and amazing fondness of those two and of the relationship they had.

So, the latest in the mater war?    The email.    From Little Coon’s son.    I got this last Sunday.

“I was hankering for some free German Johnsons, but the tomato fairies have not left any at the cemetery yet.”

My reply?  “Patience is a virtue, Cuz.  Friday is ‘Mater Day!’”

“Mater Day” was last Friday.  July 16.  My Dad’s birthday.

I left three this year.

Peace at last.

CLASSIC LUNAR – “SEGMENTS” From June 23, 2014

FROM JUNE 23, 2014

I guess, if we’ve done stuff right, we hold within ourselves meaningful memories. The most meaningful ones come from the folks who have graced our lives over time.

I have shared with you many memories that came from folks like that. They were about a grandmother who said to me, “Please don’t go!” About a grandfather who trusted me with his tool shed. An aunt who brought me a birthday cake. An uncle who took me fishing.

They were about my dad who made me laugh. My brother who remembered a fallen war hero. My sister who cared for my ailing mom. There was one about a cousin who sent a timely message of encouragement.

There have been many of my son and his wife, and their children. They once filled my empty cupboard with fresh food. My grandsons laughed at me and called me by my new name, “Paw-Paw.” My granddaughter cooked eggs with me.

And my friends – there are many stories of those who lifted me when there was no other direction I could go alone.

It’s funny. When I look at all of those moments objectively, I mostly think of just the stories and of the folks who created them. The stories each, seemingly, intertwine with nothing. They are each merely segments. Segments of time.

Maybe they don’t need to intertwine. Maybe they need to simply exist. But how do I reconcile the simple existence of mere portions of life after what I was given by a woman who embodied the emotional ties that bind all such moments?

She has some segments, too. I’ve shared her moments quite a bit over the years. I look at those times as I do all of the others. At first. But when I remember hers, and when I try to classify them, she clouds things a bit for me. When I think of her, all of my segments lose their definition. And her moments magically fall into place behind all of them.

Her moments have driven all of my life’s portions.

It was her mother who pleaded with me. It was her dad who showed a young child how to use a hammer. Her sister did the baking and delivering. Her favorite brother-in-law baited my hook. Her husband was the clown. Her oldest son remembered. Her daughter cared. Her niece was the timely one. Her grandchild and his family filled my cupboard, laughed and changed my name – and cooked eggs. And the friends? Without what I was given by her, I would never have been able to put a true value on those folks who lifted me all those times.

The woman seemed to bring order to things in my life. She still does. She has, for the past sixty years, taken all of those segments – all of them – and through emotion and love scrambled them into the one solid memory that I need. It’s the only memory that allows me to trace, to a single moment, my very own history and the origin of all of the elements that comprise my life.

That single moment happened when I met my mother.

And the moments following? With her? There were laughs. There were smiles. There were tears. There was some genuine stuff going on. But the definitions of her segments were always clouded by her ability to intertwine those moments in such an inclusive manner.

The one where she stayed up all night to save the life of her son’s goldfish. It was a sweet and singular moment much like all of those from each of the other folks in my life. But when she saved that little swimmer’s life, she didn’t stop there. She brought life to fatherhood – mine. She brought life to my son. And to his children. The days and hours and moments that have passed from that night in 1960, when she stayed hunched over that bathtub and her goldfish emergency room until well after daybreak the next day, clouded that one moment in time into lives – real ones – mine, my son’s and those of his children and into the lives of every child we each touch these days.

The woman seemed relentless in including more into simple moments that were, until she stepped in, easily and clearly defined. Like the time I fell from a tree and hurt my back so badly that the neighborhood dads rushed me to the hospital. All she had to do was to let me heal and move on. That would have been enough to give me a simple segment and a story to tell one day. But on the day I was hurt, she remembered what I said of a purple and flowered dress she wore not long before that accident. I said to her, “I love that dress, Mama.” She looked beautiful in that dress.

That afternoon at the hospital, she arrived wearing purple and flowers. She knew she could do nothing to help heal me that day. But she did what she could. She wore that dress. And she knew. Words and thoughts that come from other folks mean things. So do deeds that come from mothers in purple dresses.

If I was the only one who understood what she did that day, this, too, might just be another sweet moment – just another segment. But Mama clouded this, too, and included in my life deeds and words that I see and hear and feel from my very own son and his wife. I have seen the very same stuff from my brother and sister. Even from my young grandchildren.

They all wear purple and flowered dresses from time to time. They each bring goldfish back to life. And those friends? When they see purple dresses and rescued gold fish, they understand. They understand Mama, and they wear and rescue, too. My survival is proof of that.

The woman gave me life. She loved me. She showed me how to use her kind of love to survive and prosper in such ways – beautiful and clouded ways that take my regimented sort of segments, blend them into things that are difficult to define but that include all of the loving and funny and sweet and endearing moments her son has been allowed to live.

All of them.

No one but Mama could do such a thing.

No one.

Ninety-four years ago, on June 23, way before she gave me life, the woman graced me with the promise of some meaningful stuff. That was the day Mama was born.

I cannot say how much right stuff I have done all these years. I would argue that I haven’t done nearly enough. But by clouding segments into six decades of meaning that intertwine perfectly with every moment her son has lived, well…

mama young

I’d say Mama did some stuff right.

CLASSIC LUNAR – “PEOPLE LIKE YOU”

FROM MAY 6, 2014

I’ve never been much on lyrics.   I am more of a musical sound kind of guy.   I listen to tunes and beats and riffs that sound good.   If it sounds good, I really do not care what are the words being sung.

Easter Sunday morning, I woke up with an Elton John tune in my head.   It played there over and over as I readied myself for work.  It stayed with me while I drove in silent prayer that morning – my daily drive time ritual.   On those drives, once I say, “Amen,” that’s my cue to turn on the radio for the second half of my drive to work.

That Easter drive was beautiful.   The air was clean and crisp.  The sun was bright, and it illuminated the promise of the day.   It was a Godly day.   A day to sow seeds.   A day for rose trees to grow on every corner of every city on earth.   When it came time on my drive to listen to tunes, I turned on my favorite Charlotte radio station.   Between “Amen” and hitting the “on” button, that Elton John tune played in my mind one more time.   Neither Elton nor Bernie Taupin had the musical or lyrical timing that I had on that morning.   The first sound from my radio speakers that day was a continuation of the last musical phrase that I hummed to myself before turning on and hearing in real time “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters.”

“And now I know, ‘Spanish Harlem’
Are not just pretty words to say
I thought I knew, but now I know
That rose trees never grow in New York City.”

“Wow,” I said to myself. “God, what the hell does that mean?” I asked.

I decided to listen to a few more lyrics, hopefully to get a clue about all of this.   Why on such a beautiful and thankful Easter day did those lyrics and that tune happen in such a way?

“Spanish Harlem?”

“New York City?”

“Rose trees?”

Then I heard the words.   And it all made perfect sense to me.

“Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true
You stand at the edge, while people run you through
And I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you
I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you.”

Decades of trash can dreams have come true for me.   But I no longer stand at the edge.   That boundary is where I live my every moment. And I thank the Lord for the edge he gave me.   And for the answered dreams that led me here.

I have found some incredible people lately.   New people.   Folks with whom I work and share all that is within each of us.   Visitors to my new place of work – folks who seek out just some gentle friendliness and a smile or two.

Old and dear friends have found their ways back into my life suddenly.   With others who have always been with me, there seems to be these days a deepening of our mutual desires to continue the strength that kept us together for so long.

“And I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.”

Yeah.   This shit makes sense.   Suddenly it does.

“While Mona Lisas and mad hatters, sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky, but they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light.”

I researched the song and the meaning of its lyrics.   The writers of the articles that explained the meaning of the song seemed to all agree that it is a harsh and accurate description of the cold reality of a dark city like New York.   That tone and direction were a bit of firsts for Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

But those writers were terribly wrong.   Those lyrics are about so much more than one city.

Easter Sunday, I got it.

I worked all day that day.   Every moment there at work were opportunities to worry and fret about not being with family, of toiling in self pity, and of breaking the back of this tired and feeble old man.   It was the perfect setup to not really know if it was dark outside or light.   To force me to turn around and say good morning to the night.

But with each moment I spent in that day’s sunshine, and with each new person I encountered, I lived.   And I loved.   Light was light, and darkness was but a distant and insignificant thought.

And damn.   People responded.   The people I found that day responded.   We said good morning to the day.   Each of us did.

And that day brought nothing but good mornings until well past the time the evening just had to conquer the light’s natural and normal fade.   And force upon us all the comfort and simple understanding of all things natural.

When I was around six or seven years old, we lived in Roanoke, Virginia.   My family and I attended the Airlee Court Baptist Church there.   Reverend Sinclair was our minister.   I very clearly remember wanting to be baptized by Reverend Sinclair in Roanoke.   I think because my mom knew we would soon be moving to Jacksonville, Florida, she decided it was best to wait until after the move for such a major religious commitment on her son’s part.   By the time we arrived in our new town and at our new church, the passion and urgency had left me.   My new hero was Reverend Harvey Duke at the St. John’s Baptist Church in Jacksonville.   And of course, Billy Graham.   But by that time, all I wanted was to be moved in a huge way  emotionally before giving myself to God.   I wanted that one big moment.   I wanted my own seeds to grow into blissful rose trees. And I waited for that moment.   For the rest of Mama’s life, I waited for that moment.

It never happened.

My love of God, and my devotion and faith simply evolved from those early days.   Never an earth-shattering revelation and declaration. I just moved on, understanding that for myself a demonstrative display of faith in such a public way would not at all alter my love, devotion and faith for and in God. I eventually found comfort in simply understanding what God expects of us.

But things were different for my mom.   As faithful as she was to God, the poor woman often said good morning to the night.   And when it came to my being baptized, Mama never could see the sky.   She chose instead to blame herself for my not being “saved.”   And that is why, in my eyes, she went to her grave not really knowing if it was dark outside or light.

I have one son – an endearing one.   The kid has an extraordinary wife, and she has a nephew.   My son has found some people, too.   His wife’s mom and her mom.   His wife’s sister and her two daughters and other son.   And his wife’s grand-nephew.   My kid has the sweetest, most beautiful step-daughter in his young life.   And three of the most endearing young sons himself.

Easter Sunday night, I left work early to join my son and all of his people at their church.   His wife’s grandmother lives in Texas.   She was there in spirit.   All of the others were at that church in full force.

“This Broadway’s got, it’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I go my way alone, grow my own
My own seeds shall be sown in New York City.”

When I walked alone into that sort of “mega church,” I was greeted with smiling lights from every human face I encountered.  They didn’t know me.   I was dirty and wearing work jeans and beaten up work boots.   Reverends Sinclair and Duke might have winced at the sight of me.   My son’s found people simply welcomed my presence, and encouraged me to sow my own seeds.

They had a lot of songs to sing at that service. Even had I known the tunes, I probably would not have joined in.   I hate my voice.  But I loved what I heard.   And saw.   And felt that evening.

When the indoor service ended Easter evening, things moved outside.   There, at a beautiful pond on a slight hill just outside the doors of the church, folks gathered as the fading Sunday light began drifting toward and behind the tree-lined backdrop of all the new people in my son’s life.   My son’s wife and her nephew visited that pond a few weeks ago.   Easter night the pond belonged to my son.  His step-daughter decided on her own that the pond belonged to her as well that evening.   So did my son’s two oldest sons.   The rest of us there knew that it belonged to us all.

My son was baptized in that pond on Easter night.   His step-daughter and two of his sons joined my boy and were baptized themselves that evening. The hugs and the tears and the love that night seemed to hold in unlimited suspension the light that allowed us to live in the sky for such a brief moment while they forced away that moment’s night for a good while.

“Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found.”

I didn’t go into the pond.   I don’t need to.   The people I have found give me my big moment every day.   The people my son has found are sowing seeds that bring bliss and roses to everyone they encounter.   Certainly to me and to Mama.   Why would God expect anything more of us – than to simply know and love and understand the people we have found and with unlimited gratitude share with every new one we meet the simplicity and reality of the encounters?

I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you.

All of you.   Each of you.   There is no darkness here.   Only daylight.

And I thank God for letting me find y’all.

Mama.   I see the sky.   And it’s always light outside.   All I have to do is look to all the people I have found.   And all the folks your only grandson found.

And each and every one of us thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.

You did good, Mama.

Good morning to your day, dear woman.