Haircuts and Memories

From 2010…

Words Not On Paper

The weather is getting warm here in central Alabama, and lately the Red Head has been hinting (well, nagging really) that it’s time to get my “summer” haircut. The summer haircut is an old southern tradition in which men get their hair cut a little shorter than usual for the summer months. In my case, it’s not going to make a lot of difference, because every passing summer leaves me with a little less hair to worry about.

The summer haircut brings back old memories. I hated haircuts as a child. Funny how the passing of the years turns such memories into soft-edged nostalgia.

My dad always took me to a downtown barbershop in Sylacauga back in the late 1960’s, which I believe was located on one of the side streets between Broadway and Norton. This shop was a real man’s haven: three big leather-clad barber chairs, black and white…

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September Snow


I’ve seen September snow in Alabama this week.

A field of ragweed, head-high, making a bold last stand before the killing frost.  It will likely survive another six to eight weeks by my guess.  That’s a while yet in the life cycle of plants.  Kind of like middle age in people — you can see the end of the road, but it looks like it’s still pretty far out on the horizon.  But it isn’t.

The white fluff that contains the next generation of ragweed blows and swirls above this patch in the September breezes.  It is almost continuous.  Snowing sideways, the way I imagine it does at times during blizzards in places like Montana or Idaho.

I can only speculate, since I’ve not witnessed western snow, or even yankee snow for that matter.

I like the view.  I feel like Robert Frost as he stopped by his northern woods one snowy evening.  I understand his inspiration.

The woods under this snow will emerge later.  I know there are pine seedlings hidden by the ragweed.  By next fall, they will stand as tall, and in two years the ragweed will have disappeared altogether.  Well, not disappeared, only relocated to sunnier locations.

Relocated by downy seeds that look like September snow.


A Bluebird Day

Since “Throwback Thursday” seems to be in fashion these days, here is a little piece I wrote some time ago.

Words Not On Paper

It was a bluebird day in the Heart of Dixie.

Not a cloud in the sky, and although the June heat arrived in May this year, today was pleasant. A cold-front passed last night, and there was at least a whisper of a breeze all day long. It was the kind of day when you can’t help but be glad to be alive, when you get outside and forget about whatever worries and troubles you might be harboring in the depths of your heart.

All across my little corner of Alabama, people moved about. Lawn mowers were run and gardens tended. Pickups left early with boats in tow, headed to the lake, and returned hours later, occupants sun-blistered and happy. A seemingly continuous rumble of Harleys on the highway past my house, sometimes solo but more often in two’s and three’s.

I stayed around the home place, content to do…

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Fall Rain

images for rain

It is all movement and noise, and it surprises me just how relaxing that can be after a week’s work that has been all movement and noise.

Rain falling on a late Friday afternoon — enjoyed by an old forester on his front porch in central Alabama.

This shower is a Fall rain.  I proclaim it to be, even though the calendar says I must wait a few more days.  It is soft and steady, rhythmic even, with a gentle cool breeze and a distant roll of thunder.

Summer thunderstorms are all movement and noise, too, but of a different sort.  The chaos and clatter  sends my dogs into a frenzy of fear, so much so that I know by their behavior when a storm is approaching.  Fellow doesn’t need a barometer or the Weather Channel when he owns Boxers.  Their nature is child-like.

This rain is gentle enough that the hummingbirds continue their flights back-and-forth between the dogwood and the feeders that hang from the porch eaves.

Peaceful rain.  Perhaps even purposeful.

A country song says that “rain is a good thing.”

On this Friday evening, I’ll have to agree.

Biscuit Man

Since I have a few new readers, I thought I’d post an old piece every now-and-then. I’ve been at this a while…

Words Not On Paper

I sometimes eat breakfast at a little diner on Friday mornings. I like a proper southern breakfast at least once a week: bacon or sausage, couple of eggs, grits, and especially biscuits. A good biscuit is the coup de gras of a real breakfast.

I will admit that I am a little spoiled in regard to biscuits. My momma made such a breakfast every morning when I was a child. In my humble opinion, she is the world’s premier biscuit chef: an artist who works in flour and shortening; the undisputed biscuit-making champion of the world. She should have her own show on the Food Channel. Maybe call it Ginger Clifton’s “No Reservations” or better yet, “The Biscuit Whisperer.”

A good biscuit is a thing of beauty–a culinary masterpiece. Every culture has its bread specialty, but none stack up to a properly made southern biscuit. It is an art form…

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Comfort Words

Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading the term “comfort food.”  I get what people mean by it, but it has no relevance to me.  I don’t have a special food that makes me feel better.  Well, maybe fried chicken if it’s done right.  Hard to find these days.  Good chicken is as rare as hen’s teeth.

I mentioned a while back that I like the old words and expressions that were commonplace in my childhood.

I don’t hear them used much anymore.  Words and phrases once as common as a case quarter in my little world of central Alabama are now relegated mostly to hillbilly music or men like me who are getting long in the tooth.

Language changes — I get it.  No use crying over spilt milk.  That doesn’t mean I have to toe the line, though.  I still use many of them in my speech, even though the young folks look at me like I’m crazy as a loon.

I still see girls that are cute as a speckled pup and some that would make a freight train take a dirt road.  The latter sometimes have teeth so bad they could eat corn on the cob through a picket fence.

I’ve seen some tow-headed boys, too.  Know more than a few men who think their crap don’t stink.

I reckon I could run on with this discussion ‘til the cows come home, but there wouldn’t be much point in it.

Don’t get your drawers all in a wad.  You get the gist of it.

Here’s a little gem from the one of the greatest southern songwriters (and prolific user of the old expressions) you’ve probably never heard of — Billy Joe Shaver.  He’s been good from the git go:


Black and White


Kim is black.

When I say black, I mean black — not brown, caramel, mocha, honey, or “high-yellow.”  Black like starless midnight or India ink.  Ethiopian black.  I only mention that because it matters, whether you are in east Alabama, New Orleans, Mexico, or probably even the African continent. The lighter the skin the better, at least culturally.  I didn’t make that rule.  It’s been that way from the get go.

Kim works second shift at the convenience store where I buy gas.  It’s about a mile from my house, so she knows where I live.  We maintain a running dialogue of complete foolishness.  I call her “Dark Chocolate” and she sometimes calls me “Cracker.”

Is this little essay making you uncomfortable?  If you follow the ridiculous notion of “political correctness” it probably is.

But trust me on this one — it’s all good with me and Kim.  We both have mirrors at home, and we both accept who and what we are.  She doesn’t refer to herself as “African-American” and I don’t call myself “English-American.”  We’re both from Alabama.  If we’re comfortable with it then maybe you should be too.

Kim and I enjoy our meaningless banter.  She is a fan of the University of Alabama football team and I went to Auburn, so that gives us plenty of material most of the year.  But we also discuss politics, business, and cultural differences between our two races.

Just like me, Kim is not a fan of government.  She doesn’t like the current Administration. She didn’t vote for Obama — wouldn’t have if she could have.  She’s not allowed to vote because she is a convicted felon.

It seems that Kim got caught with a quantity of drugs that the law deemed more than simple possession.  More like “possession with intent to distribute.”  She spent a couple of years in the big house (her phrase) for that.  She was innocent — but then again, we all are.  It’s been that way from the get go, too.

I’ve learned a thing or two from Kim.

On crime:

Kim:  “I see you got you a new television.”

Me:  “I did.  How did you know that?”

Kim:  “You put the box out right out on the street for the trash truck.  You just advertising for every crack-head that drives by — here it is, come get it.”

On my grand-daughter, arriving in November:

Kim:  “What you’ll going to name that child?”

Me:  “They’ve decided to name her Katherine, but they’re going to call her Kate.”

Kim:  “No baby, that ain’t gonna do.  You white folks got no talent when it comes to thinking up names.  You need more vowels to give a name some music.  Tell your son and his wife to come down here and I’ll help them put something together.”

On men:

Me:  “Check-out that guy at the gas pump.  That’s a nice ride he’s got.  Maybe you should go out with him.”

Kim:  “No.  I know him.  He ain’t got no money.  I don’t need another broke nigger to support.  That’s what got me in trouble the first time.”

On religion, one Sunday morning:

Me:  “That guy looks like he’s headed to church.  Too bad you’re working today — you could go with him.”

Kim:  “I ain’t interested in sitting up in there with a bunch of hypocrites.”

Me:  “Well I can’t see that one more will make much difference.”

Kim:  “I actually tried to go to his church when I got out (of prison).  I was gonna make a new start and all, and it is my community church.  They stopped me at the door and told me that ‘they would prefer I not attend their church.’  So that’s it for me and church.”

Maybe there is a difference between black and white after all.

Most of the white church folks I know would have let her in but ignored her until she finally gave up and went away.



A Life In Between


Most of my life is lived in the margin between two worlds.  Never quite fitting-in with either, I make my way through the empty space.  Whether this is the life I chose or the fate that chose me is up for the philosophers and theologians to debate.

I earn my pay in the company of loggers.  Most lack formal education.  Some never even finished high school,  and yet are among the smartest men I’ve ever met.

These are men who can listen to the hammering of a diesel engine and tell when something just isn’t quite right.  They rebuild hydraulic pumps and fix machine tires that stand taller than a man and weigh a thousand pounds.  Men who know how to turn a wrench, work a grease gun, and weld cold steel into something needful.  Each day they go home tired and dirty, but with the surety of accomplishment.  The evidence is right there for anyone to see.

I admire them because I can do none of these things.

I should be able to function in their world, at least marginally.  My daddy was a man who had similar talents.  He could build a house or repair an engine without plan or diagram, and often even without the proper tools to do the job.  If something broke, he simply figured it out and fixed it.  And while he earned a college degree as an adult (working full-time and taking his courses at night), I believe he was always happier and more satisfied with a hammer or a wrench in his hand than a book.

I helped dad when I was young — mostly handed him tools and held things in place while he worked the magic.  But none of his skill stuck with me.  I’d like to think that it was because I was young and my mind wandered while I assisted.  But the simple truth is that I just didn’t have it in me.  Still don’t.  Electrical circuits and gear ratios are as mysterious to me as quantum physics or the mind of God.

The loggers know it.  I’m tolerated, but I suspect most of the time they wish I would just stay out-of-the-way.  Occasionally I am included in their fraternity of craftsmen by a joke or a story.  In that brief interlude it will be forgotten that I am, in large measure, useless in their world.  I will always be a “college boy,” in spite of the fact that we share the same roots and grew up in similar circumstances.

At least they are kind.  I’m pretty sure they know if they said “Hey, go get me a left-handed three-eights hex wrench out of the truck body” that I’d go look for one for thirty minutes while everyone had a good laugh.

Pride will do that to a man — make him act like he knows something rather than admit he’s ignorant.

Of course there is my “other” work world — college-educated professionals.  People that should be my peers.  I have the credentials, but I’ve never fit there either.

I am as out-of-place at dinner parties as on the logging deck.  In speech and in dress, I suppose that I am nothing more than an educated hick.  I’ve never lost my thick Southern accent and my love of the old country expressions, and I’m much more comfortable in blue jeans and boots than in khakis and oxfords.  I have little to contribute to the conversations that interest this group — the stock market, left- and right-wing politics, and the accumulation of the stuff that comprises their idea of the American dream.  For instance, I have no idea how much money is in my retirement account or which mutual fund I should be in, nor do I care.

The white-collar folks view of my intellectual abilities usually surfaces when they find out I can write a little.  I’ve heard “you wrote this?” more times than I can count — a back-handed compliment that still makes me secretly smile.  It is as if I am a mongrel stray that wandered up in the yard and began to do tricks.

Occasionally it comes out much worse, as educated-folk are not as tactful as loggers.  Once I was told “you are a whole lot smarter than you look, and definitely smarter than the way you talk.”

And so it goes.  I play my role in the great theater of life, an extra moving on- and off-stage as the scene changes require.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m comfortable with my part.  As a writer, it allows me access to the stories and characters in two vastly different worlds.

The in between is a good place for me.