The Harrikan

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Tubby calls it a “harrikan.”  Before our conversation a while back about the 2012 tornado that just missed our adjacent farms, I’d never heard that word used to describe a tornado outside of a William Gay novel.

The old folks of my youth were more apt to call it a “cyclone.”  Tornado became more common with my parents’ generation.

I like the old southern words.  They have a certain heft, a weightiness that just seems more solid to my ear.  Words that really are more descriptive of the event in this case.  Harrikan (pronounced like a clipped version of hurricane) and cyclone — both accurately describe the counter-clockwise spinning of air.

Tubby is in his late-eighties.  He doesn’t get around much anymore.  He usually just sits on his front porch when not watching his shows on TV.  “He’s done got too damn old and arthritic to coon hunt,” so there’s not much else to do.  If it’s not too cold, he wears only his overhauls — no shirt — and always with one gallus undone.

I see him sitting as I pass by on the way to do some meaningless chore at the farm.  He waves, though I doubt his eyesight is good enough to tell who I am.

Still, I should stop.  Nothing is so important that I couldn’t spend 30 minutes talking to an old man.  Each time I pass I promise myself that I’ll stop next time, but any fool knows I’m running out of “next times.”

The 2012 harrikan missed us by less than a quarter of a mile.  I wasn’t there (it came like a thief in the night), but I saw the results the next day — a swath down the next ridge that went for miles, snapping and twisting everything in its path.

Tubby heard it pass by in the blackness of the night.  “You ain’t never heard such a racket in your life.  We was in the bed, and by the time we got to the front porch it had already passed.  But you could still hear the wind rattlin’ the tops of them big oaks up by the church.”

It made an impression.  Tubby bought one of those prefab storm shelters, a little fiberglass thing with a hatch which now lies buried no more than five feet from his front steps.  He reckons he and his wife can make it that far.

We’re on high alert for harrikans today.  Storms killed several across the state last night, and we are being warned to prepare for “round two” this evening.

Limber-up, Tubby.  It’s going to be a long night.

 

 

 

 

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An Offensive Tale

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If you choose to write a little, please be advised that your skin better be as thick as a boar hog.

I wrote a short piece a couple of weeks ago called “Delta.”  It was intended to be a  snapshot view of a little country town in north-central Alabama.  I spent about 15 minutes there on the way to somewhere else, and about 20 minutes writing the essay.  The idea was conceived while thinking about the comparison of the Mississippi Delta with a town in the rolling hills of north central Alabama.  Like a lot of things I write, it turned out to be a kind of metaphor for something unrelated — in this case, the lonely mood I was experiencing that day.

I was amazed at the response.  I’ve been writing here for several years, and about 50 people read the average post.  I’ve written a number of times about other places in Alabama (Piedmont, Newbern, Sylacauga, Birmingham, to name a few), but “Delta” had over 700 readers in one day, and my site statistics indicate that it continues to get over 20 views a day since.

At first I was elated:  readers!  And then the comments began.  From those I received, it appears that I offended a great many of the residents of that area of the state.

I was initially shocked.  Nothing in the piece that I intended to be offensive.  I felt a bit like I had run over someone’s dog in front of their children.

One dear lady even threatened (light heartedly) that she might even retaliate by blogging about Opelika, the little town where I live.  Little did she know that although I have lived here going on 19 years, I don’t consider it “home” by any stretch of the imagination.  The only way you’ll ever be home in an Alabama town like Opelika is to be born there.  Otherwise you are always an “outsider.”  You won’t ever be fully included.

So give it your best shot, ma’am.  I guarantee I won’t be offended.  In fact, I’ll probably laugh and may even agree.

Suddenly in the midst of this chaos I had an epiphany.  Instead of writing these little literary, artsy-fartsy observations full of metaphors, similes and such, I should write things with maximum offensive intent.**  Become a “shock” blogger and get some real attention.

So with that in mind, I offer you this tale — coincidentally set in the same lovely county in which Delta is located.


 

I mentioned in “Delta” that Clay is one of the few “dry” counties left in Alabama.  Just in case you’re stupid (and some of you undoubtedly are), that means that no alcohol is legally sold anywhere in the county.  I admire that.  People with conviction that have steadfastly voted to maintain their convictions since the days of Prohibition.

Several years ago I was attempting to buy a lovely little patch of hardwood timber in the central part of the county.  I appraised the tract, and the landowner met me and my friend (the money man behind the transaction) at his barn just down the road.  Now this fellow was a country wheeler-dealer.  This was not his first trip to the dance, and it took some hard dickering by my friend to get to the figure the man had in mind — but they eventually agreed, and a handshake and a check were exchanged.

That fellow was right friendly after that.  “You fellows want a little nip?”

We looked at each other.  My friend said, “Well sure, I reckon.”

The old-timer disappeared behind the barn and returned with a Mason jar.  “Have a little sip of this — it’s the good stuff.”

Now I must pause here for a personal aside:  I am Christian by faith (the King James Bible I read does not prohibit drinking per se, but only in excess) but a Baptist by denomination (which does prohibit drinking, even in moderation),* so I was in a bit of a predicament.  My friend, who is not Baptist and possibly not even among the Elect chosen before the foundation of the world, did not hesitate before taking a sip and handing me the jar.

My curiosity overcame my denomination.  I took a sip.  It did not disappoint.  Much like the descriptions I’d read, it tasted as sweet as Coca Cola.  Then it hit my belly, and I could feel the heat rising back up my pipes all the way to the tip of my tongue, something like the mercury in a thermometer on an August day.

My friend, a flat-lander by birth and being therefore unschooled in hillbilly etiquette, asked a stupid question that only an outsider would ask:  “Did you make this?”

The old-timer’s countenance changed for a moment.  His eyes narrowed, from friendly to hard.  “No, son.  I bought this here in North Carolina last time I was up there at a NASCAR race.”

There was an awkward pause.  “Well sir,” my friend said, “Next time you go let me know.  I may get you to bring back a jar for me.”  Nice recovery, that.

Satisfied that we “bought it,” the man relaxed again and we concluded our visit.

I went back and saw that fellow several more times while his timber was being harvested.  He was always cordial (even thanked me for the good job the logger did which almost never happens), but he never offered another nip.

A line had been crossed.  Some things you just don’t talk about.

But if you are ever in that county of great conviction and you find yourself thirsty for a little sip of something that rivals anything that comes out of Tennessee or Kentucky, just let me know.  We can try to deal with a man I know, or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous we can check that hollow behind his barn.  If you can run faster than buck shot, I believe you’ll be satisfied.

 

*While most Baptist openly oppose the consumption of alcohol, my experience has taught me that this conviction is somewhat shallow.  There is much truth in the old joke:  “Never take a Baptist fishing with you — he’ll drink all your beer.  Always take two Baptists.  That way, they won’t drink any of your beer.”

**Those that should feel offended by this post include, but are not limited to:  Boar hogs; current or former residents of Delta (or someone who simply knows a current or former resident); photographers who take snapshots; essayist; bloggers; people from the Mississippi Delta; users of metaphors; English teachers; lonely people; residents of Piedmont, Newbern, Sylacauga, Birmingham, or any of the other places I have written about; readers of written word; writers of comments; dogs; children; lady writers who blog; people from Opelika; outsiders; insiders; stupid people; literary types; artists; people with digestive disorders;  attention seekers; anyone from Clay County; people of conviction; people without conviction; Prohibitionist; boozers; members of AA; landowners with barns; wheeler dealers; dickerers; dancers, timber sellers (or buyers); hand shakers; check exchangers; moonshiners; bootleggers; nippers; Christians, Baptist; readers of the King James Version of the Bible; Presbyterians; Calvinists; curious people; sippers; the Coca Cola corporation; people who own thermometers; flat-landers; hillbillies; old-timers; people from North Carolina; NASCAR fans; line-crossers; loggers; people from Tennessee or Kentucky;  people who are adventurous; runners, either sprinters or distance; the National Rifle Association; and makers or shooters of buckshot.

The Creek

There is a creek running through this property.  It has no name on any of the maps that I have found, and is only delineated by a thin blue line on USGS quad sheets.  The line is unbroken, which means that the mappers consider it to be perennial, a free-flowing stream that runs year round.  Perhaps so, but I have seen it dry twice in the past ten years, no more than a sandy bed with a few holes hardly full enough to properly wet a bullfrog.

No-name creek is unusual in these parts because it flows north.  You don’t see that much here.  After all, the Gulf of Mexico is south, and all the rain that doesn’t soak into the soil or evaporate back into the Alabama sky eventually makes its way to the Gulf.  This creek eventually does too, flowing into the larger, correctly-oriented Jaybird Creek (now there’s a proper creek name)  a couple of miles north of here, which in turn flows into the Tallapoosa River, which in turn flows into the Alabama River down near the state capital, which in turn…well, you get the idea.  Water moving steadily south.

Perhaps it should be named “wrong way” creek.

There was gold here once — at least enough back in 1832 to create a brief rush of dreamers.  A little spot along side the State road a few miles north as the crow flies still bears the name “Goldville,” but there is little to commemorate those times except a few references in dusty yellowed history books.

A fellow in a beat-up Chevy pickup once stopped and asked for permission to pan for gold in the little creek.  I never saw any evidence that he was successful, or that he even came back to give it a try.  Perhaps he, like the prospectors of ’32, simply gave up and moved on.

I have no interest in what gold may lie here.  I like it just the way it is.

Although the creek has no name, a little pool no more than two-feet-deep up near the spot where it runs onto the next ownership does.  I call it “Butch’s hole,” because my bulldog loved to cool off there on our summer jaunts together.  He’d walk back and forth in the cool water and finally flop down with nothing but his head above the water line.  Sometimes I’d join him, taking off my boots and rolling up my pants legs to wade along side him.

I don’t know what dogs think, but I have to believe that this was his favorite spot in the whole wide world.

I do know that it’s one of mine.

It’s quieter now.  Old Butch lies underground near the bank.  A piece of Tallapoosa County field stone marks the grave.

There may be a gazebo here one day in the future where a man might read a  book or take a nap.  Or perhaps a tree house perched over over the water where a grandchild might make his own memories.

Some pretty unremarkable places can be sacred to a man, but only if their stories are passed on in the telling.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Family

Here’s a message to the Auburn University football “family”:  you’re a jerk.

I attended my last Auburn University football game today.  A spring scrimmage.  An event you would expect to be cordial.  A celebration of last year’s surprising success and a celebration of what might be next year.

But it wasn’t.

I can’t remember an Auburn football game I have attended in the last ten years that there wasn’t some sort of incident with a fellow Auburn fan. 

Most SEC schools are tough on the opposing fans.  I’ve attended games at the University of Alabama and Louisiana State University, and I’ve seen the Crimson and White and the Purple and Gold be pretty rude to the opposition’s fans.  I guess that’s part of the passion of SEC football.

But it is only at Auburn that I have seen Auburn fans act like total asses to fans of their own school.

Here’s a newsflash:  you are not “all in.”  You are not special.  You apparently cannot “hold your alcohol.”   And you won’t get another dime of my money to watch your football games in your loveliest village.

I’ll reserve my support to television.  You won’t miss me and I definitely won’t miss you.

War Eagle, and see you at the baseball stadium where real fans know how to conduct themselves.

 

Delta

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If you find yourself in Delta, Alabama, don’t go looking for the river because there’s not one.  No cotton, no corn, no rich alluvial farms that stretch out so flat and far that heat shimmers upward in waves in summer, and a good shade tree and a cold drink of water might be worth a thousand bucks if you had it to spend.  No history of callused black hands picking cotton, or of poor white tenants buying their supplies on credit based on cotton futures that never seemed to quite pay-out at harvest time.  No dynasties in this Delta, be they Duck or otherwise.  You might find the blues down at the crossroads, but don’t go expecting to make any deals with the devil for your guitar licks.  I suspect that even he has limited time, and the selection is better where the souls are more concentrated.  Maybe just up the road in Anniston.

On the west side of Highway 9 you’ll find the post office and general store.  Not much on the shelves in store, and I wonder if a couple of thousand dollars might buy the entire inventory.  It does offer “Hunt Brothers Pizza!” and “Wing Bites!” — but you won’t find much of a selection of liquids to wash them down with.  The coolers aren’t full and the selection of soft drinks is limited.  You won’t find a beer because Clay County is “dry,”  one of the last counties in Alabama to carry that distinction.

Next door is the “Delta Mall,” an old-style brick and glass-front facade building that is largely empty but for a few items that look like they might pass for antiques.  A handmade sign near the door near reads “Come Buy Honey!”

I wonder where Honey lives, but there is no one to ask.

Across the highway there is “G & S Auto Sales” which has no autos to sell.  Next to that is “Morrison Feed and Meat” which I assume has got a man covered from calf to freezer.

I head west of the crossroads and find the Clay County public lake, which offers fishing for three dollars a day.  Business is good for a weekday, and a man with a heavy stringer of bream looks to be getting his money’s worth.

Headed back I notice my friend The Land Man has a nice old farm for sale.  Sturdy  country house with a big front porch.  I let my mind wander for a second and see the picture postcard potential.  A little sweat and diesel fuel would put that land back as it should be.  A porch swing and a dog or two is all the house needs.

Back at the crossroads I notice that everything here is neat as a pin.  Prosperity may have moved on down the road (if she ever lived here to begin with), but nothing looks run-down or neglected.  Mostly it looks lonesome, like some stray lyric in an old Hank Williams song.

Lonesome suited Hank in a convoluted way, and sometimes it suits me too.  I reckon we both believe that the best way to view it is in the rearview mirror as you head back out on the road.

Blood Moon

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A lunar eclipse is coming on April 15.  It will be the first of four over the next two years.  I’m not very savvy when it comes to astronomy, but it’s my understanding that this “tetrad” only occurs every four to six hundred years or so.

If that’s not enough, there’s this:  the first and third eclipse coincide with the Jewish observation of Passover, while the second and fourth mark the beginning of the their Feast of Tabernacles.

Oh, and one more thing — each eclipse will be a “blood moon.”  The alignment of the earth, moon, and sun will make the moon appear to be the color of blood.

This is heavy stuff for orthodox Jews and some Christians.  Nothing good happens in the Bible when a blood moon appears.  Some will see it as a sign of the end of days, or the return of Christ for the final judgment.  I won’t give you the Biblical references, you can look them up for yourself if you’re so inclined.  Or you can Google “blood moon” and be taken to all sorts of websites (Secular, Jewish and Christian) with expert opinions on what the coming blood moon really means.

I don’t have an opinion as to the “end times” significance.*

I do know that the Bible predicts things will get really bad before Christ returns.  Earthquakes, disease, wars and rumors of wars.  Signs and wonders all around.

I don’t need a blood moon to show me that.

I just watch the news.

 

*Matthew 24:36, The Bible.

 

 

Waiting to Inhale

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Sometimes it’s the things you don’t hear in the still of the night that scare you.

Several months ago, the Redhead began to complain that I was snoring.  “I’m not positive,” she said, “but I think there are times when you’re not breathing.”

She suggested I go to a doctor — maybe have a “sleep study.”

I thought not.  I had a sleep study about ten years ago.  Fun stuff.  They put me in a room where I couldn’t get a good nights sleep if I was exhausted, attached wires all over my head, and put a big rubber band around my chest.

Fun stuff.  Not interested.

But the Redhead can be very persistent when she seizes upon an idea.

She woke me one night.

“What?”

“You weren’t breathing for a really long time.  I thought you were dead.”

“Well for goodness sake, woman, I was headed toward the light.  Leave me alone.”

The next morning she played the audio.  She had recorded my “episodes” on her smartphone.  Clever girl.

Snuzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Silence.

Tick. Tick. Tick.  Forty-five ticks in all.

One little squeak, sort of like a chirp from a baby bird.

Silence.

Tick. Tick. Tick.  Thirty more go by.

I had the sleep study.  Prognosis negative.  No breathing fifteen times a minute during “normal sleep.”  Forty times per minute during “R.E.M.” sleep.

R.E.M. sleep is deep sleep.  The sleep when you recover from the day.  The sleep when you dream.

So now I spend my nights hooked-up to a CPAP machine, looking like a fighter pilot.

I dream again as I fly through the night sky, high above the stillness of the Alabama countryside below.

The Redhead sleeps a little easier too.  She was afraid I might wake-up dead one morning.