D.W.B.s and Why Everyone Should Know What They Are.

I brag about my stepdad a lot, that’s not news for those what know me. I was a tad worried when that crusty ol’ yankee came into our lives. We were from two different worlds’; he didn’t understand much of what I said, and I sure didn’t understand that New York accent of his. But Ma seemed to be happy with the arrangement, and as the “man of the house” I went along with it. After all, back in those days; finding a feller to take on a divorced lady and her band of four heathens was no easy task, even if we were all just “perfect angels.”

I don’t know when it happened, but sooner or later that ol’ coot started to grow on us. Possible because he looked the part, I rarely seen him in anything other than his bib overalls and long sleeve shirt. A gnawed toothpick eternally hung from one corner of his mouth, while a lit cigarette hung from the other. He kept a large ashtray by his recliner, but it was only a general target, evidenced by the ring of ashes circling it.

His nature was loud to say the least, and anything he had to say was generally heard by everyone in the room, (whether they wanted to be a participant in the conversation or not). He had the “particular” habit of calling me by my formal name, never “Mike” but “Michael,” and he began every conversation with it.

I can’t begin to list all the advice he passed down to my teen-aged self. Most of them are just…automatic now, I don’t think about them, they just seem to be there and happen, like blinking, you don’t think about it, you just blink. But one piece of advice sticks out above all else, it’s a list, and I’ve tried to pass at least one item from that list to each member of The Tin Cup boys.

That list, titled by my stepdad was known as your D.W.B.s’. More formally known as your “Damn. Well. Betters’.” (Right now, my kids are reading this and shaking their heads, yea…they’ve heard em before.

D.W.B.# 1

“Michael” (see there, he did it again). You damn well better pay your taxes, “Render unto Caesar” he would say. It’s your responsibility to pay your fair share, after all, it’s a small price to pay so’s you and your family can lay down and sleep at night, free from the fear of some cracker head breaking in and taking it from ya. This country ain’t perfect…but it’s a damn sight better than most. “ Now I don’t know about you” he would say, “but I got no desire to be standing in line to buy cheap government issued toilet paper.” Besides…you don’t want em getting their hooks in you if you don’t pay em. He called em “hooks” not “claws,” claws you can just pull out, but hooks, they’re a different story, you can’t pull em out, they got barbs. Once the government gets those hooks in you for non-payment, they ain’t letting go. So…good Lord willing, I’ve paid em what I owe em, ain’t got no hooks in me to speak of yet.

D.W.B.# 2

“Michael” (there it is again). You damn well better realize there is a “Higher Power.” Now you can call this “Higher Power” what you want, “but believe you me brother,” (he said that a lot as well) there’s a divine force pulling the strings. “You may be the center of “your” universe, but you’re not the center of “the” universe,” I guarantee it. We as children of God have the responsibility of looking out for the one on our right. Think about that for a second, it makes sense. As children, we answer to our parents, we have rules and like it or not, we have limits. A five-year-old may want ice-cream for breakfast, but as a parent, it’s our responsibility to say no. Adults and parents aren’t any different, we (adults) also have rules and limits. We can’t have everything we want, or do anything we want, oft times those things aren’t good for us in the long run, so sometimes God says “no.” Kids need to feel comfortable asking their parents for advice, just as adults need to feel comfortable asking God for advice. Often we may not like the answer, just like the ice-cream.

D.W.B.# 3

“Michael” (you knew that was coming). You damn well better fix that toy. This is a big one for parents, so pay attention. A child will never bring you a broken heart if they can’t bring you a broken toy. (I’m gonna let that sink in for a minute while you read it again). Don’t get so caught up with life and all its troubles, that you don’t have time to fix that broken toy and wipe that tear from your little ones cheek. When your child brings you a headless doll, or a crashed toy car, all things gotta stop. Period. To them, that bobble is their heart and their world, and they’re asking you (trusting you) to fix it, and they die a little inside, each time you don’t have time for them. When they get older, the toy is replaced with more grown-up issues, they need to know they can bring that to you in safety as well, they gotta know they matter, and you will do your absolute best.

D.W.B.# 4

“Michael” (aww come on, you didn’t expect to stop now). You damn well better open the door and take off the hat. This one can get a little sticky so bear with me. This revolves entirely around respect. Never forget to open the door for the person behind you, especially if that person is a lady. It’s simple manners that many have forgotten. The practice serves two purposes. Doing so humbles you in the company of others, that’s an honorable thing no matter how important you think you are. (Refer to #2), not the center of “the“ universe thing, remember? This little habit reminds us of our place in this world and our responsibility daily. The next and most important, is respect. This small act of humility honors the other, especially should that person be older. They have done their time, gained a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom, and are worthy of our (your) respect. I’m gonna inject a little of my own here and ask something of you. The next time you are waiting in the drive through, getting your morning coffee and sausage biscuit, pay the tab for the person in the car behind you. Don’t wait around for recognition just do it, that’s between you and God, (he notices stuff like that), trust me on this one. You’d be surprised how much it brightens their day, remember, take care of the person to your right, (also from #2). Finally, never sit at the table with your hat on. To some this may seem rather trivial, but in removing your hat you demonstrate reverence to your Heavenly father for providing you the means to afford and enjoy the meal you have been blessed with, as well as respect for the one who prepared it for you.

D.W.B.# 5 “Michael” (you knew it was coming). Family is everything, especially when you don’t like em. Relationships are like the tide; they ebb and flow. Some days they’re so sweet you could eat em up, and other days you wish you had. (feel free to use that quote). Nobody gets along all the time, if that’s what you expect, you’re destined for heartache. We age we change, we hurt we heal, we forgive… and we love. In a perfect world love is unconditional, unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world. So…God gave us families, a group of imperfect individuals to help bare the burden when life gets to heavy for one. We may (and will) fight and argue, we may say and do things we shouldn’t, we forget birthdays and anniversaries. We may even take each other for granted. But in the end, we are all we have, and quiet possibly all we need, ain’t it wonderful! You see…he “that Higher Power” designed us that way, and the last time I checked, he don’t make no mistakes.

D.W.B.# 6 “Michael” (Last one I promise). Never break a covenant. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. When you give a man your word, or shake a man’s hand, that’s the end of it. You can’t break a covenant, not even the good Lord will break that. To this day, If I pump a man’s paw, I know it’s serious business, I still conduct a lot of my affairs that way, and I warn folks about the importance before they grab my hand. I get the short end a good many times, but as long as you keep your end of the bargain, you can sleep well at night.

So there’s the D.W.B.s, you might even want to put em on your refrigerator, right next to the crayon drawing of the family dog. I’ve tried to instill at least one of these D.W.B.s into each of my boys in the books. My hope is, when you read it, you will see it in their personalities. The release date is still up in the air, times as they are and all, publisher says they are doing their best. Until then I request and Thank You for your patience. As always, a “like” or “share” is greatly appreciated, and I enjoy the comments. There is also a “Tin Cup Clan” FB page, you are welcomed to join us.   Till next time…. sincerely, The Tin Cup Clan.

“Hope” Boiled down

In Chapter 31 Our boys find themselves on a mission, alone on a dark road, in the middle of the night, in a cold heavy rain, and scared outta their minds. Tempers were starting to run high and as most of us do, they were starting to doubt themselves. There’s a lesson here.

If you want to know who a person “really” is, put em under pressure. Pressure has a way of cutting through all the fat, and hardship has a habit of exposing character and bone. I’ve found strength and character are oft times found in the most unlikely of individuals. Not the loud, proud, in your face types that we have come to look up to.

If you want to see character, if you want to find hope, look for the humble, the quiet, the resolute. Look for those in the midst of the flames, not those fanning the fire. Chances are, you might be surprised by who you find.

In our book, an eleven year old boy puts a little of this into perspective. He’s having a conversation with a kid who has made his life miserable. We could learn a few things by the way he handles it.

Excerpt : from Chapter 31 “The Mystery of the Leech Cemetery Witch”

You know… the witch. Whatcha gonna ask her?

I ain’t askin’ for nothin,” he [Mark] sneered…I’m just here to show you up is all. Nothin’ more.

I’ve been thinkin’ about it awful hard, I replied. I know what I’m askin.’ Just ain’t tellin’ nobody. No sir, our little secret, just in case it’s all real.

He looked at me for a second; a puzzled look covered his face. Wait…do you mean you really believe this stuff. All these ol’ tales and junk. I mean…I always knew you was kinda stupid; but I didn’t think you was this bad.

I was getting fed up with his attitude. You know Mark… sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference twixed stupid and hopeful. Heck, I don’t really know if there is a difference. But I do know this.

They’s a lot of stupid people out there hopin’ fer stupid stuff. But there don’t appear to be a lot of hopeful people out there that are any kinda stupid. The tough part I ‘spose, is tellin’ the difference. That’s what keeps me goin’ I reckon.

Yep that’s me…I’m just “stupid” enough to keep “hopin’.”

I hope this make some kind of sense. Once again I thank you for taking time from your day to read these words, and once again, pass it on. The Tin Cup Clan

Alway Choose The Wing

  (A reflection of Character)

By Michael Miller

Southern folk are a peculiar folk, raised a bit different we were, but southern “mountain” folk…well, that’s another subject entirely. I’m afraid I cain’t speak for everyone else, all I can do is relate insight on how I was taught, unfortunately, that’s a time long gone. This new-found writing career of mine has taught me to find stories in the most unusual of circumstances. One of these circumstances presented itself just the other evening whilst I sat staring at (of all things), a platter of fried chicken. You, my dear friends are about to discover one of life’s most important lessons, you’re about to find out why… “you should always choose the wing.” So, fasten your seat belts folks, here we go.

Back in the day… long before they were slathered in Buffalo sauce; or attained center stage in trendy eateries. Long before they found themselves delivered by barely covered young ladies, only to be gnawed on by beer soaked middle-aged men. (I’m referring to the wings not the ladies). These humble and understated parts of the chicken were known by one and all as “poor people” food. Yep, that’s right… it wasn’t very long-ago, wings were most often bought by the gallon bucket at your local Piggly Wiggly. Wings, livers, and gizzards gave the most bang for the buck, and let me tell you something…I ate more than my fair share of those things. Where’s this going you ask? Well…hold on a minute, we’re just about there.

You see…there’s a lesson to be learned in the humble wing, you could say a quiet, solemn, sense of purpose, free from vanity (unlike those prima-donnas of the poultry world known as chicken breasts), and the thighs, and we’ve all heard stories about those guys. Nope…the wings have a job to do and they know it, and part of that job is teaching us just a little about “humility.”

I was told as a child, “better a peaceful penny than a stricken dollar.” As a boy I could never make sense of that, but now…well…I get it. Our world is full to the brim, packed tight with folk after the best, the fastest, biggest, most expensive, me, me, me, my time, my life, my this or that. And at what cost?

In my not so humble opinion, life needs to be a bit more like the supper table, and that platter of fried chicken, (told ya we’d get there). My mother never, and I mean never grabbed the first, or the last of anything. Grabbing the first piece was frowned on, and viewed as arrogant and self serving, while grabbing the last was seen as selfish and uncaring. In our house, this resulted in a dozen or so hands grasping at the same plate at the same time. For more of this, refer to the great Jerry Clower and his story “The last piece of chicken.” The nuts and bolts of this little tale boils down to watching out for the one behind you. As crazy as this may sound…the type of piece you choose, reflects the personality you possess.

Let’s get preachy: Romans 12: 10 NIV

“Honor one another above yourselves”

Get it now? Watch out for the one behind, or beside you. Don’t go around grabbing the best parts, don’t go around leaving nothing for the next to arrive. Stop thinking so much of yourself and focus on your neighbor. All of this from a chicken wing; never saw that coming did ya? But wait, there’s more.

Remember the sacrifice made by our parents? In a large family with extremely limited resources, it was common to hear ma say, “well, I didn’t really like pie anyway, or, I’m not in the mood for chicken tonight.” She was always the first to make the sacrifice when there wasn’t enough to go around. We need more of that; we need more folks to take the high road.

Preachy again…   Luke 14:10 NIV

“But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.”

My stepdad told me, “never be the first to enter a room.” That stuck with me, when I open the door now, I let the person behind me enter first, out of instinct, not strength of character on my part, or a conscious decision, it just happens, like blinking. “It’s impossible to straighten the bend in the oak, the crook that grew in the sapling.” Ever heard that one? Ever had the door shut in your face at the grocers? Yea…that dude grabs the breast off the platter every time, I guarantee it. Next time you’re at the Piggly Wiggly, Stop, open the door for a stranger, Please.

All this, and we’re still talking about a chicken wing, what about that. Once again, that little wing teaches us humility, and in an odd sort of way, makes a better person. So…as you go through life remember, don’t be the first to enter the room, it has a Ta,da, aura about it, nobody likes it I promise. Make sure and take the lowest seat at the table, both literally and figuratively, trust me, it’s embarrassing if someone asks you to move a few seats back. You may be the center of “your” universe, but you ain’t the center of “the” universe. Never take the last piece, or slice of anything unless asked, once again, literally and figuratively, doing so makes you come off as selfish and inconsiderate. And finally, always grab the humble wing, leave that breast for momma. For once, let someone else have the best piece, you’ll get yours, I promise. Trust me, folks will notice and tell others, just like I have now. “We need a lot more folks chewin’ on a wing, and far fewer chokin’ on their words.” That’s just my opinion, feel free to make it your own.

If you like this little tale I would appreciate it if you would share it, at least once. You gotta know somebody who needs to read it, we all do. Leave a comment if you can, I sure do love reading them. Till next time… Thank You, from The Tin Cup Clan. Better still, press the follow button, I’m trying to build a platform here.

Lessons from my “Dad”

The man I came to refer as my dad in fact wasn’t. My “real” father decided early on that four children weren’t worth his time, so off he went in search of greener pastures, softer women, shiny cars, etc. etc.

My mother was then faced with the insurmountable task of raising two boys and two girls (one suffering with severe diabetes) quiet alone in a time before all the “support” commonplace in this day and age.

The courts forced my “father” to do right by us. He begrudgingly sent fifteen, that’s right fifteen dollars per child per week to my mother. She supplemented that with a night shift job which paid three dollars an hour. Our baby sister’s medical needs ate up a great portion of that.

We lived in an old mobile home on a rented lot. The floor was collapsing in several places and the electric worked in only a few outlets, extension cords crossed the floor like strands of yarn. The kerosene furnace seldom worked; many a winter’s night was spent under quilts on the living room floor while we took turns waving heat from an open oven with a piece of cardboard. Some nights so cold we placed an old hairdryer under the blankets to keep my little sister’s feet warm, (a problem with diabetes). Broken windows were sealed with sheet plastic and tape, while leaky doors were sealed with rags and towels.

Looking back, I am awestruck by her courage and force of sheer will. There were no monthly checks, no Government assistance, no help with rent or utilities. She did it all, and did it against all odds. In a time when divorce was viewed with indifference by some and disgust by others, she persevered.

The pressure seemed to roll off her “like water off a duck’s back,” but as an adult and a parent, I now understand the pressures she was under, and she worked fervently to keep us blind to the reality. One of the very few times we caught even a glimpse of that pressure is burned forever in my memory.

She drove us to Huston Sellers grocery store one evening, we waited in the car as she went in. Money was short as usual, so she bought what we needed on “credit,” another little fact she kept hidden from us kids. I watched as she walked out, then stopped just a few feet from the door, there she wobbled a bit, and we stared in horror as she collapsed on the sidewalk. That evening I saw the ugly result of the weight she was bearing. Now a days when I hear the term “white privilege” I shake my head.

We survived that period in our lives as a family… yes, we had our problems like everyone else. But she forged a family in the amidst the turmoil. Time (as it does) moves on, we’re still close, though not as close as we once were, (another effect of time). Hemingway said, “we’re stronger in the broken places,” I am forced to agree. There is an unfortunate side effect to that strength, those broken places are left with a scare, a callus. That “suck it up” attitude, or “whether you think you can, or can’t, you’re probably right” thinking is strong in our clan, we know no other way.

Some tell me that I don’t take this Cancer of mine seriously enough. It’s bad and it’s spreading all the time. Why ain’t you freaking out? they ask. Ain’t you afraid of dying? So on and so on. Well…yes… yes to all the above. But faith and Fear can’t live in the same house, that lesson comes from her. I gotta admit, were it not for those lessons I would have imploded long ago.

We are blessed… at seventy-six years of age mom is still with us, and still full of piss and vinegar. About forty years ago she met a crusty old yankee, and he pulled us out of that mess, he didn’t have too. After all, what sane person would take on a woman and four “wild as a buck” kids, but he did, and we’re alive because of it. He’s passed on now, but he’s the one I call “Dad.” He taught me how to be a man, mom taught me how to be a person, he built on a solid foundation that she laid.

In the book series I modeled the main character’s mother after my own. In the pages you’ll get a glimpse of life for some of the mountain’s poorest. I hope you’re impressed by their strength of character and perseverance of spirit.

That’s what this article is about, “Father’s day,” and on this “Father’s Day” I celebrate my mother, for the greater part of my life she was both, and I think she done one hell of a job.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY MA, you deserve it.

Time to meet the Witch

Well… here it is, the central theme in the first “Tin Cup Clan” book. I admit I’ve put the ol’ girl off for awhile, after all, there were other subjects we needed to address. I need to begin by reminding all, there are always at least two sides to every story. The Witch is certainly no exception.

We all grew up hearing old ghost stories, as the teller changed, the story evolved with each telling. But, as I’ve said before… I firmly believe there’s a grain of truth in each one. It’s inevitable that such truths, after time and telling, become lost or difficult to recognise.

Our boys are out to find that truth, one way or another. Was she really a witch as the legend says? Or… was she simply an innocent victim of superstition in a bygone era. I’m gonna leave that question right there, and allow you to decide for yourself when you read the book.

So dear reader, I present to you, the “Leech Cemetery Witch.”

Excerpt : Chapter four(4)

The Tin Cup Clan-(Mystery of the Leech Cemetery Witch).

Even though we had all four grew up hearing the story. Stick was only too happy to tell us all again.

The way I heard it goes like this. You see, back nearly a hundred years or so, there was this old woman what lived up around Sinkin’ creek. I don’t think nobody knew her name fer sure, most folk called her Wilmide. She lived in the opening of an old spent mine shaft along with an old one-eyed dog.

Folks said she was spose to wear clothes she wove from the hair of what-ever animals she ate. She even wore a hat made from chicken feathers and stuff like that. And a necklace that had chicken feet tied to it to boot. Papaw said, that if you wanted a love potion, or maybe somebody had wronged you, or even a hex, or somethin’ like that, she was the one to go see. But she weren’t gonna do it for free.

David couldn’t stand this silliness any longer, before finally blurting out. “If she didn’t have no use fer foldin’ money, what did a body pay her with then?”

Stick raised his hand, putting him in his place before continuing. “I’m gittin’ there, I’m gittin’ there.”

Papaw said, you could bring her anything from dead chickens to dead goats, the deader the better. What kind depended on what you were askin’ her to do. The bigger the hex, the bigger the price.

Well; this went on for a number of years, nobody paid a crazy ol’ woman in the woods much mind. That was till one cold snowy winter. I mean it was a bad one too, cold like folks round here never seen before. Snow so deep, they say a horse’s belly would rub raw against it. It was durin’ such a winter, a young lady came to pay the ol’ witch a visit. There, by the light of that ol’ fireplace, she told a sad, sad story.

She said, her ol’ man worked the hooty owl over at the Blue Diamond. At least that’s what he told her he was doin’. But he was lyin’ ya see. He had himself a woman on the side. Nobody knows for sure who she was, some folk say the mayor’s wife or maybe the sheriffs.  To make matters even worse, he went and had himself a baby with her.

Well, if that weren’t bad enough, his wife had a baby of her own to tend to, a wee little baby at that. Well, he was stayin’ gone all the time, sayin’ he was at that mine, workin’ and such. But, even “workin’” as much as he said he was, he weren’t takin’ proper care and providin’ for his family. Blamed it on the hours at the mine I reckon.

One night; it got cold, I mean really cold, in that ol’ cabin there weren’t no coal for heat, so that poor little baby up and froze to death. Of course, this drove the wife nuttier than a squirrel turd. Somehow, she had heard through the grapevine about Wilmide, and in her terrible grief, took a mind to go see her.

She wanted revenge on her ol’ man in the worst kinda way, no matter the cost. And she wanted double for the woman he was seein’ as well. She felt she deserved that woman’s baby to make up for the one what died cause of the cold. But old Wilmide asked a hefty price, she wanted that baby fer herself.

Why an old woman would want a baby, nobody knows. But the woman was so mad, and so depressed, she agreed to the ol’ woman’s terms. So, hands were shook, the deal was done.

Weren’t long after that, there was a massive cave in at the Blue Diamond. Twenty-three men lost their lives in that horrible accident, including the woman’s husband. Mine explosion they said. Some died right away, them was the lucky ones. The others lingered for quite some time, days even, till finally the air gave out. A few even managed to scribble death letters to their families.

The man’s girlfriend went crazy with grief. I reckon she couldn’t live with his diein’ and all. So, one cold dark night, she went and jumped to her death over at the bluffs. That same night, the man’s wife found that little baby sittin’ there on her front porch, near froze to death, no note nor nothin’.

Big David interrupted. I thought you said the ol’ woman was gonna git that baby.

Hold yer horses, I’m gettin’ there, I’m gettin’ there, replied Stick.

Well… word got out amongst the town folk, and like it usually does, gossip turned to panic. They just knew it was ol Wilmide’s hex what killed all those brave men. A hangin’ mob was put together by the town leaders, and they took off up the mountain, after the ol’ witch.

There they found her, sittin’ in that ol’ mine, that one-eyed dog by her side. I reckon she knew they was comin’, cause all’s she said was, “come on in boys and warm ye-self over by the fire a spell.” When they made their way over to the warm fire, someone heard a baby cry, and there on the stones they found an old basket. In that basket lay that ladies’ baby, all wrapped up in rabbit skins.

The excitement was getting to Chucky. What’d they do, what’d they do? he asked.

I’m gittin’ there, I’m gittin’ there, hold your horses. First, they grabbed the ol’ witch, bound her hand and foot with iron cuffs, cause everybody knows, a witch cain’t escape from iron bindins’. Then, they went over to the hearth to gather up that baby. Low and behold. They’s no baby there, but over to the side they seen a baby’s basket held tight in the jaws of that one eyed dog just as it went runnin’ up the holler. Search parties looked high and low, but the baby, and the ol’ dog were nowhere to be found.

They tied that ol’ woman behind a couple of horses and dragged her all the way into town. That’s where the men beat her to the point of death, even tortured her with hot brandin’ irons and everything. Still, she wouldn’t tell em where the dog or the baby was, or even if her hex was to blame for the cave-in.

It didn’t matter how much they beat her, she just laid there, laughin’ at em. Through all that torture she never uttered a single solitary word.

They built a hangin’ post right then and there, and that’s where they hung her. Right smack in the middle of town. Some folk say, she never stopped laughin’, even as she hung there swingin’ in the wind. But at the stroke of midnight she went silent and limp.

Now, everybody knows, you cain’t bury a witch on Holy ground. So they picked a spot way out back of Leech Cemetery. Just outside the fence so’s not to be sinful. Then they sealed her body in an iron box so’s she couldn’t escape and buried her there with nary a single marker.

Folks say some seen a big dog standin’ on the next ridge, watchin’ the whole burial. And when the first shovel of dirt fell, that dog began to howl, eerie and ghostly. That howl was said to have been heard for miles up and down the hollers.

That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard scoffed David, “you said there weren’t no headstone.”

That’s the scary part said Stick. You see, a number of years later, a gravestone mysteriously appeared, almost outta nowhere. No writtin’, no drawin’, no nothin’, just a blank head-stone.

Many a folk have tried to knock it down, but the next day, it’s always back up. The best anyone could do was punch a hole in the back of it, that’s right, its holler, holler as yer head. And that hole is said to go down, way down. To what? Nobody knows.

A lot of folk think it was the child and dog what put that stone up. If so, they’d have to be as old and gnarled as the ol’ witch was by now.  It’s said, they keep it up to this day, nobody knows fer sure.

Rumor is; if you go there, just at the stroke of midnight, the witchin’ hour and drop a dead animal into the hole, she’ll answer a question for you. But you might not like the answer. If you ask a question, and not give her payment, they say the one-eyed dog will come fer you and yer soul.

Wisdom in a “Button Jar”

I want to introduce you to a couple of folk today. No, neither one is in the books, but each had a profound effect on me as a person. Neither were flashy, brash, or loud in any way. As a matter of fact, they’re lives came and went, and the world scarcely took notice. It does that, (the world), fanfare, and accolades are seldom showered on the humble, the quiet, the loving in heart and spirit. No… now-a-days folk look to the loud, the colorful, and oft times obnoxious for inspiration.

A few seconds… that’s all you need, just a few seconds on the “interweb,” or evening news and your heart and mind are assaulted by this new normal. Folk cain’t seem to get enough of it. We want more, we want faster, we want cheaper, we want no limits, we crave excitement, we’re addicted to the rush and we want it “our” way.

That’s why this post is so important. It appears we’ve lost our way, and a great many have forgotten the lessons left to us by our elders. We live in a time when many need a handful of pills to silence the voices at night, followed by another handful of pills to wake those same voices come morning. We’ve forgotten how to stop, be silent, and listen to that “still small voice.”

So dear friends, allow me to introduce you to Otha and Naomi Henry, I think you’re gonna like em.

Otha and Naomi were known to family and friends as Dadaw and Mamaw. They lived in a humble farmhouse that, to the best of my knowledge, he had built by his own hand in Townsend Tn. That home saw several children and for the most part they mirrored the same strength of character and wisdom of they’re parents.

Otha married the love of his life and from the beginning they were inseparable. I came to know them late in they’re life, Naomi was bed-ridden at this point. But every Sunday family would gather in her bedroom, there they would find her wrapped in home-made quilts and sitting up against the headboard with a broad smile on her face.

Otha tended to her every need with joy, time (as time does) may have been unkind to their bodies, but the spirit…well that was still bright as ever. The Lord finally saw fit to call Naomi home, and suddenly Otha was left without his “help me” as old folk call them.

But he still found a way to care for his dear wife. You see, every day he rose early and drove to the cemetery, there with nothing but a simple shovel he began to rebuild the stone wall that protected her resting place. To him, it was simply “the right thing to do.”

I pulled into his drive one day and found him sitting in a lawn chair beside a stump. On that stump sat an old cobalt blue button jar. He had poured the buttons out into a pile and was sorting through them. His white hair and neatly trimmed white beard hovered over the stump in deep concentration. I watched for a second or two as his finger slowly separated the buttons into groups known only to himself.

“What-cha doin’ Othie” I asked. He was quiet for a moment; his reply was profound. Oh…talkin’ to Naomi, he said. Those four words spoke volumes then, and they speak volumes now. He knew there was comfort to be found in the solitude, that’s where she waited for him. That’s where they talked and shared memories. I came to realize the need to stop, just stop for awhile and “talk” to those we love, past and present. The wisdom of the ages lies hidden in quiet contemplation. I visit that summer Sunday often in my dreams, he’s still there, sitting next to that old stump, talking to his beloved Naomi.

He finally finished that stone wall. Funny thing, it wasn’t long after he laid his shovel down, the Lord called him home to be with his beloved Naomi. Such a wonderful ending to such a wonderful romance. Why cain’t we find that same peace now a days? I’m sure I’m not smart enough to have the answer to that. But I do know this…it’s not the loud, obnoxious, over the top things that make a difference in our world. Most times it’s the small, the quiet, the humble acts that shake the ground and leave a lasting legacy. I know it did for me. Think about that for awhile and share this story, I’m sure there is someone in your life that needs it about now.

One last note…I’m not sure where that button jar is today, I’m certain some family member has it. I hope they know it’s significance, and I hope they have it sitting in a place of prominence. I sure wish I had it, I might just play with the buttons and talk to an old white haired man by the name of Otha Henry.  

The Measure of a “Best” Friend

How would you define the word “friend.” What’s required of us to “be” a friend, or to “have” a friend? I reckon those simple questions have perplexed folk for about as long as the good Lord’s blessed us with thought. Some say a friend is someone you can share the deepest darkest parts of your heart with, certain they wouldn’t tell another soul.

Well… if that be the case; I figure the only one I got might be my dog, Yep… just the dog. Frankly, I can and have told him stuff… you know, the kinda stuff I’d be too embarrassed to share with anyone else. He just sits there, staring at me, soaking things in. (Maybe he’s just hungry?) I’m not sure, I figure I’m safe though, it’s not like he’s gonna run around telling complete strangers my worst secrets. But there are times I do worry about what he thinks of me, what he tells his dog friends when I’m not around.

No, I believe a friend’s a lot more than just a repository for our “worst” selves. A “Best” friend has to be “grown” over time, a walking talking measuring stick of who we really are. They learn us, not just our words, I’m talking about the real us. You see… we can’t hide that part from a “Best” friend. The trick is finding someone who’s willing to invest the time and dig past what we “put out there.” Then accept the worst of us as just, “part of the package.” Yea, kinda makes you feel a bit “ick” don’t it?

A “Best” friend won’t hesitate telling you how wrong you are either. Nope, you may not like it, but they’re usually the first to warn you about that bone headed scheme, and the first to say “I told you so.”

” A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17 : 17

It’s been said; “you can tell who a person is by looking at their circle of friends.” Think about that for a second, look around a bit. What would you think if you were just meeting you? So…keeping that thought firmly in mind, consider your clan. That’s who you are my friend, good, bad, or indifferent, that’s the person you’ve chosen to put out there.

Our boy Mikey has such a friend in “big” David. By the end of the book he’s gonna figure out just how valuable, such a person is. David’s one of those rare individuals that lead by example and not even realize it. They just do what they do, and in the process attract friends like bugs to a porch light. David’s character was instilled in him by his family, it’s to easy to forget that even the smallest of things have a lasting effect on our children.

” It’s impossible to straighten the bend in the Oak, the crook that grew in the sapling.” American proverb.

We all need a “Best” friend and I hope you’ve got one. I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t think I do. But that ol’ dog is sitting here, looking at me kinda funny, I wonder what he’s thinking.

The following excerpt is Mr. Bills advise to Mikey about friends. Our boy soon figured out, a “Best” friend doesn’t have to agree with everything that comes outta your mouth.

Excerpt ; Chapter 26 “The Tin Cup Clan”

Time fer a much-needed smoke break young’un. Let’s you and me go rest our legs for a spell.

I had just finished with the last trash can when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

The air was cold and damp; the constant wind increased the discomfort. Heavy clouds covered everything in a dark fine mist and it clung to the battered metal trash cans forming a thin layer of ice.

The cold weather didn’t seem to vex him none. He stood there; his thin naked arms dangling in the wind. Once again the same smooth singular movement of that ol’ Zippo lit the “smoke” he held clinched in his teeth.

He opened his mouth just a little; allowing a thin wisp of smoke to seep from his lips. The smoke hung there for a second before getting pulled back in through that hooked nose.

So… you boys still figurin’ on headin’ off up that mountain tonight?

Yes sir… I reckon we are. Looks like I ain’t got much of a choice now. What with everything that’s happened and all.

He backed himself up to a bucket, gave his britches a tug above the knee and sat down with a pitiful groan.

“We always got choices son, specially a lad yer age.”

He paused for a few seconds staring out in the fog; he seemed almost painfully deep in thought. It’s when you get my age that ye find yer choices have been made. But… I figure if yer minds already made; ain’t no sense in me tryin’ to change it. But for the record… I don’t agree with it.

When yun’z figurin’ on headin’ off up there any way’s?

We gotta meet Mark about seven at Kesterson’s Market I replied. I figure we’ll start up that way then. So long as it ain’t rainin’ or anybody else chickens out.

He lifted an eyebrow; who’s backin’ out on ye?

David I replied. Said he weren’t about to go fibbin’ to his folks. I spose bein’ friends don’t mean as much to some people as it does others.

He got an agitated look on his face.

Now you wait just a minute young man. Just cause a body don’t agree with everything that comes outta your mouth don’t mean they ain’t yer friend. I figure the best ones ain’t afraid to say no from time to time. Keeps us honest. Just like you did with that Mark feller. Gotta stand ye ground, even if it’s shaken under ye feet.

He rubbed his rough chin and leaned towards me. Ye get what I’m sayin’?

Yes sir, I get it. Just don’t make it any easier is all.

He stood up, wiped the stray ashes from his britches and flicked his cigarette into a puddle. Come with me a second; I got somethin’ fer ye. Jest might help ye out a bit.

We stepped over to the outdoor freezer. After fumbling with the frozen padlock for a second he opened the door and stepped inside.

He came out holding four small bags.

Here he said, I figure you’ll be needin’ these. He handed me four frozen frogs.

I figure that biology room could spare a few. Yer gonna be needin’ em where yer goin’.

I cain’t take these I said.

Why not? They’s just gonna be all cut up in a few days anyhow. Least this a way they can do some good. I’m just gonna set em here, just inside the door. When ye come to git em, just pull this pin out to open it. Jes make sure you put it back. You hear?

Now… let’s get back to it before ol’ Tuttle comes a lookin’ fer us.

We shook the cold from our bones and went back to our labors. As the ol’ saying goes. ”busy hands make short work.” It wasn’t long till the clock said my shift was over.

I hung my apron and hat before saying good-bye to Bill. As usual he was bent over loading trays. With-out ceasing his work he simply mouthed “be careful” from across the room. I was off and eager to tell the guys about our new-found prizes.

School Bus Etiquette: (Just where are we s’posed to sit anyways)

Here’s an excerpt from T.C.C. (Mystery of the Leech cemetery witch). Most of us remember the unwritten law of seating on the school bus. Where did you sit, how was the view from your section? This was our section and how it looked from a fifth grade point of view. I hope this brings back a few memories. If it does, drop us a note and tell us about it in the comments below.

Excerpt; Chapter (1) The Tin Cup Clan.

Funny thing about a school bus; there’s a certain “social segregation.” One might go as far as to say a miniature cold war of class separation.

Now… you might think a body could sit just about anywhere there was an empty seat. But every kid what has ever sat on a bus knows that certainly ain’t the case on this or any other bus for that matter. One simple mistake, such as sitting in the wrong territory or next to the wrong person, could haunt a kid for the rest of the school year. And no kid, no matter how hard they might want to, can ever leave one group for another.

I believe the seating arrangements are about the same no matter where you might go to school. It’s some twisted sort of natural order. Birds of a feather and all that nonsense. And oddly enough, it starts from the rear of the bus.

First, we have the jocks and their giddy band of cheerleaders, they sit in the very rear. Here discussions of upcoming games, how much each can bench press and what type of car they hope to drive someday are the norm. Even which poor soul of lesser distinction may have been forced into doing someone’s homework.

All this accompanied by the constant singing giggling cheering chittering and what-ever annoying attempts for attention those dang cheerleaders might think up. For the most part, they’re a vain group, and not very bright by our clan’s standard, but dangerous all the same.

Just a few seats up, you’ll find the “cool” kids.

I’m talking rock music, leather jackets, pretty girls, and greasy hair. You had to be really careful around this group. They can smell fear just by looking at ya. When I say aggressive this is the group that comes to mind. They seem forever on the look-out, searching for the slightest sign of weakness, scent of blood in the water or accidental infraction.

They were, believe it or not, less intelligent than the jocks. If you were caught looking at one of the girls, or made any manner of eye contact, you’re probably gonna get a pounding, or at the very least a severe cussing.

A few seats closer to the front sit the smart kids.

Most are kinda quiet really and all are harmless. They don’t say a whole lot, least not to anyone out-side their own group. Piles of dog-eared papers usually cover their laps. A last-minute dash to finish home-work or extra credit projects I reckon.

When it comes to this group; eye contact must be avoided for a completely different reason. The very possibility of eye contact just might force one of them into catatonic fits. Sending them digging through their pockets and trapper-keepers in a frantic search the ever-present inhaler. Yea, I reckon they spook pretty easily.

Separating the smart from the cool was the “poor kid” section. I reckon you might say it was kind of a demilitarized zone. Protecting the smart ones from the various projectiles or flips to the noggins from the rear seats. In other words; our group was on the receiving end of most everything shot from the rear seats.

 This section is comprised mainly of kids whose parents work in the mines in one way or the other. The clothes they wear might be a little tattered, repurposed hand me downs from older siblings. Many have never laid eyes on an iron, even if they had, late nights and busy mornings don’t leave much time for such trivial and vain labors.

The colorful fingernail polish so common in the rear of the bus is replaced by nails edged in black dirt and soot, leftovers from gathering coal, feeding animals or tending morning fires. Guys wear haircuts done at the kitchen table with a scissors and a towel. But the girls in our section, well that’s a different story. Pretty as a new fawn, proudly showing off long neatly brushed hair, tied back in a conservative style with pretty home-made bows.

It’s only October so blue jeans still cling to their dark blue color, most have only now just begun to fade. Most ain’t even torn yet, patches of different shades will soon cover knees and the occasional butt-cheek. We usually get two or three new pair when school starts, it takes a good while to break em in. Until that time the denim is usually so stiff, I swear they could stand on their own, if given the opportunity.

Along with the new britches, comes a new pair of shoes. Not the shoes worn by jocks or cool kids, ours are a great deal more “utilitarian.” But that don’t stop most of us from dreaming of high-top Converse for the guys or a bright white pair of “Keds” for the girls. Maybe even something in patent-leather, you know, for Sunday meetings and such.

The halls echo with a chorus of vutt-vutt-vutt, the sound of legs covered in stiff denim as we each make our way to class. The sound slowly fades as the cloth softens and the dark blue fades to a lighter shade with the seasons.

This is where I usually sit, if not in the same spot then real close to it. A seat saved for me by one of my three closest friends in the world.

I don’t remember what brought us together. Shoot, I don’t even remember when we all first met, it just seems like we’ve always just… well, been. Whenever don’t matter, we all know we’ll be friends forever and there ain’t nothing gonna change that.

Three men, a coon, and a birdcage walk into a bar.

Funny thing life, it seems we spend our entire existence in a frantic effort to build long lasting relationships. Then to our dismay, discover oft times life’s most influential people are with us for an all to brief moment. They pop into our lives like a spark in a dark room, and sadly fade just as quickly.

We never know when we may encounter these folks, sneaky they are, slipping in under cover of darkness, only to slip back out without warning, leaving an emptiness in our hearts and minds.

I suppose the best we may hope for would be our lives impacting theirs in the same manner. We hope that where-ever they are, they look back upon ourselves with the same warm feelings.

This brings us to our next story. Time doing what time does, marches on. Things change, all things, I don’t like change, I need to be clear about that. Like a lot of us, I find a great deal of comfort in those old sneakers, yet I admit to maybe just a little pride in the new pair my wife picked up “on sale.” Once I get past the initial “shock” I realize I was just (in my father’s words), “pole vaulting over mouse turds.”

          Once Ma’ met the man I would come to consider my father. A crusty ol’ yankee by even the best description, but a wise man just the same. The first thing he did was throw out the proverbial “old sneakers.”

The family moved to an area in Sevier county Tennessee known as Wears Valley, it was a sleepy little area bordering the Great Smokey Mtns. National park. Little did I realize the profound effect this place would have on the rest of my life. The influence of the   people, and the much-needed guidance of my new stepfather.

I was born and raised in the mountains of east Tn. I knew the hills and hollers like an old friend, but the beauty of this place was some thing I had never experienced. The nearby towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg would turn into my stomping grounds. It was as close to a hillbilly Vegas as anyone could get. So much to do, so much to see, jobs were plentiful and could be had by anyone. Coincidentally this was in fact the 80’s, we all know about that period and the resulting boom in quality of life.

We were mountain folk, not used to having a great deal, not accustomed to eating every meal every day, not used to having a “real” job. Having some pocket money jingling about, let alone folding money was a new experience.

He brought us here, that crusty ol’ Yankee, his name was George, and that man made me into the man that I am today, and I owe him my life.

          George bought a 10-acre tract of land in an area known as Clear Fork, and that ol’ boy worked my brother and I like rented mules. He rented a little place over in Russel Holler while we built the house. The holler’s name sake family lived at the end of the road directly across from our place.

I will never forget my first encounter with this some-what eccentric family. The old house they called home looked like it might collapse and return to the earth at any moment. It was the perfect hillbilly homestead in every respect, exactly what most imagine for such a dwelling.

Grey asphalt shingles barely clung to the exterior walls, the roof line, including the porch had a noticeable sag about the center. Porch posts fashioned from poplar trees wore a weathered and warm grey patina, to finish the look a worn plank floor partially covered with peeling paint lay half rotten.

          On that old porch sat four worn and grey rocking chairs, and on those worn and grey rocking chairs sat the Russell boys. I use the term “boy” rather loosely, as the youngest of the group was undoubtably in his mid. thirties. All but the youngest were of an exceptionally large size and all were clad in bib overalls. Across the laps of at least two of em lay a large gauge shotgun. The boy’s favorite drink was obviously beer as evidenced by the towering pile of aluminum cans next to the house. The pile would often reach an unmanageable height, so from time to time the truck was used to drive over the pile thus making the size more manageable.

First impressions might lead a person to believe this was a group of men to be avoided, and avoided at all costs. But little did I know at the time, we would grow to be the best of friends. I soon realized that if these boys liked you, they would stop at nothing to help you, and if they didn’t, well, let’s don’t go there and just say we did.

          The matriarch of the family was Stella, an older, gaunt lady with long grey hair and maybe two teeth in her entire head. She was a fine Appalachian woman by any definition, and the toils and struggles of a hard life were easily recognized in her face and on her frail bent body. She was forever dressed in what appeared to be handmade clothes, complete with hand knitted shawl which she kept wrapped upon her shoulders.

I’m sure raising that group of boys took its toll on her, and she looked forever weary when-ever I happened upon her. But there was an ever-present spark about her, life seemed to exude from her, and she was always quick to offer sound advice or share a story. Gone is that generation, gone are the stories, the morals, and the work ethic, a simple outlook on life. I might add, the world is much poorer for it.

          The youngest of the boys went by the name of Sherrell, now Sherrell was a bit different than his brothers. He was of relatively slight stature with a long neck and hook nose. He was born with a severe birth defect which left him exceptionally crippled, both legs were horribly bent out of shape causing his arms to flail wildly as he walked, and he walked a lot, everywhere he went he walked.

He also possessed a particularly bad speech impediment; it took me awhile to learn his lingo and be able to communicate with him. His older brothers routinely treated him like a pack mule, enlisting Sherrill to fetch all manner of things for them and walk to Dewey’s store to buy boot-legged beer and such.

 The front of our house contained a large window, many was the time as we watched T.V. a bright light would streak across the back wall, then dart back and forth like a laser pointer teasing a cat. Sure enough, there would be Sherrill walking up the road in the pitch black, flashlight in hand, streaking through the trees’ but seldom upon the road, his arms flailing in the dark throwing the beam in all directions. I often wondered if the light did him any good as he hobbled his way up the gravel road.

An hour or so later that same light would streak through the living room again, telling us all that Sherrill was back from his mission. I never reckoned how those boys drank any of that beer, Sherrill shook it about so violently with his flailing arms, it had to be undrinkable. But I reckon some questions will always remain unanswered.

          My brother and I were cordial to the entire family, they were fine people in most every respect, but we gained an exceptional bond with Sherrill. He was forever at our house inviting the two of us on one of his many hunting trips. Small game is a staple with most folks in this part of the country and we seldom turned down an opportunity to get some fresh game. Usually squirrel or rabbit. but Sherrill was particularly fond of coon.

I don’t really care for coon, it’s a bit gamey for my taste. So is deer meat and bear for that matter. If you tell most hunters you don’t care for it you generally get the usual retort,” well you ain’t had it fixed right yet.”

Coon hunting is of itself an experience like no other.  Its always done at night when the coons are active, the dogs know the scent so all you gotta do is find a good secluded piece of woods and turn the dogs loose. There’s something magical about sitting in the woods and listening to the far-off drawl of the dogs, it echoes through the trees and down the hollers. Resting soft on your ears like a mountain fog. Combine that with some good friends and a thermos full of hot coffee and, well, there just ain’t anything finer on God’s good earth.

Once chased, the coon’s natural instinct is to climb, so they end up in the top of the tree with the dogs baying at the bottom. All that is required at that point is to point a strong light up into the tree and search for a pair of glowing eyes, A well placed shot, the coon falls from the tree and viola, dinner.

          One certain Saturday come to mind when I think of Sherrill, I don’t recall what my brother and I were doing at the time, but here came Sherrill. Bragging about his hunt from the previous night, and all the goings on we had missed by staying home in front of the T.V.

He started to get a little excited when it came to this one coon in particular. We just rolled it off as excited exaggeration and let it go at that. In his hard to understand tongue he was going a mile a minute and it was starting to get difficult to keep up. “Well hell” he said, (translation), “why don’t you just come on over here and let me show you, how’s that?” So off we went, the three of us, to see what all the commotion was about.

Sitting at the right side of the house was an old privy. Sherrill led us to the door and stated, (translation) “Quick come on inside.” Three, that’s right three grown men crammed into an old single seat outhouse. (Translation), “close the door behind you” he said, reluctantly I shut the door and slid a piece of wood over to lock it.

There we were, a little uncomfortable and a whole lot curious. Next to the hole sat a rather large something, it was covered with an old bedsheet, so its identity was anyone’s guess. Sherrill reached over and took the fabric by the corner and gave a quick jerk. There before us sat a rather large, very rusty old birdcage, the likes of which you may see in little old lady’s houses. But the birdcage weren’t what was remarkable, oh no, it was what was being held captive inside said birdcage what sent chills up my spine.

Inside that cage, crammed in so tight it couldn’t move, save its forearms was the biggest dog-gone coon I have ever in my life had the opportunity to lay an eyeball on, and boy howdy he was some kind of irritated.

          Sherrill thought the whole thing was just funny as hell, in his gnarled hand he held a small stick, and with that stick, was poking said coon to the point of fits. Hee-hee he would laugh through his nose while teasing the poor animal. Jus look at em heeheehee he would say, “ain’t e de ugweast fang you seen,” (no translation). All the while poking and prodding this monster of a coon.

“Don’t do that crap Sherrill” I pleaded, you’re gonna get us all hurt. “Is ok” he snorted as he looked up, “e ain’t goin no wherz.” Poke, poke, poke, after only a couple minutes the coon somehow managed to grab the stick from the ol’ boy’s gnarled hand, causing it to fall into the open hole, well this frustrated Sherrill to no end so he started poking at the poor creature with his finger. “U sumbich” he would say, still laughing as loud as he could. Dude I’m outta here I said, you’re gonna get somebody hurt. “No,” he yelled, “don open dat door.”

While he was turned and yelling at me, the coon saw his opportunity for payback. It was at this time the creature was able to sink its teeth full into Sherrill’s finger. A loud ear-splitting scream came from the old outhouse, Sherrill, racked with pain, jerked his hand back, only problem was… the coon was still attached.

          The bars of the rusty old cage gave way, the bottom fell to the floor and there we were… three grown men, in an old outhouse with one extremely agitated raccoon.

I knew in an instant this was not gonna end well for any of us. Pure and absolute bedlam ensued, in a panic we all three were trying to find the piece of wood that locked the door. The coon jumped from shoulder to shoulder, gnawing on each of us as he made his way around the small wooden interior. He ran around the walls like a circus side show dare devil, never touching the floor, but taking time to sink his teeth into whatever flesh was closest at that second. And Lord all mighty the sound that thing made, or maybe the screams were coming from Sherrill, I’m not all together certain which.

After what seemed an eternity (Einstein’s law of relativity) one of us, I’m not sure which, found the lock. The three of us fell through the door with a thud, three meaning me, my brother, and Sherrill. The coon shot up the mountain side like his tail was on fire, never to be seen again.  

Time has since erased that ol’ house. Stella went on to meet the Lord quite a while back. Sherrill passed away in a local nursing home a few years ago and I’m quite sure his brothers have all passed as well.

I began by talking of those who enter our lives and just as quickly fade away. Whether they know it or not, they become part of our memories, our stories, things that make us uniquely an individual. For the most part…I believe they leave us better than who we were before the meeting. A footprint if you will, and worthy of the telling.

Cancer is trying its best to remove these marks, but I’m blessed. I hope most are so deeply imprinted into my memories that they may survive the assault. In the meanwhile, I cherish them both good and bad, they make me who I am, uniquely hillbilly

Who is this Witch that you speak of?

Written by Michael Miller

            I’ve traveled a bit. I believe that’s a fair statement, I agree its a bit underwhelming. Towns nestled on the New England shores to the Gulf Coast (and several points in between) have at one time or another been called “home.” They’ve all been small towns, narrow streets lined with brick buildings, streetlamps festooned with baskets of seasonal flowers. I’ve found each to be unique in countless ways. Diner staples such as Lobster rolls in New England give way to Shrimp Po’ boys in the deep south. Frappes in New Hampshire give way to Milkshakes in Tennessee, (funny story with that one, but that’s for another time). You might think the differences insurmountable. We don’t want to talk about the difficulty an “Appalachian American” has in matters of communication with more “northerly” regions.

            Once a person takes the time and makes the effort to penetrate the cultural differences, you begin to find common threads. Commonalities connecting all points of the compass, and all manner of people. The love of neighborhood, the pride of community, the education of our children, (it takes a village right)?

            The love of legend (in my experience), is universal. The flavor changes from region to region, like salt and pepper on the same baked potato. Common ground for most legends is surely the town’s old cemetery. Every, and I do mean every town has at least one. Rusty steel fences and iron gates containing weathered Grey stones. Final resting places for our dearly departed provide needed points of contact to the living, allowing access to cherished ancestors.

            Presently I live in one of the oldest towns on the East coast. The residents of the local cemetery are a varied bunch, pirates, sailors, and soldiers rest beside everyday merchants and a young eighteenth century girl preserved in a barrel of rum. We even have a loyal British officer, buried standing at attention, in full salute to his mother England. All these are tales for later books, future adventures we’ll take together.

            The mountains of home, that’s where we need to be at the moment, here is where our tale unfolds. The Tin Cup Clan is about to run headlong into a complicated tale, known to all as the Leech Cemetery Witch.

            These hills and hollers are soaked to the marrow in folklore and legend. Not superstitious? Well let’s see about that. Would you open an umbrella in the house, or perhaps bring a rake or hoe inside? How about hanging two mirrors facing each other? Planting in the wrong moon or perhaps have a bird fly into the house? What about that bright colored square that’s on the side the barns? Do you know what that’s for? You see? Saturated.

            I believe all legends contain some small grain of truth. That’s right buried deep inside each is a seed. Like all seeds, they do what seeds do best, sprout and grow. Each time the tales are told they grow a bit, spread out a bit. Once grown they make other seeds and the process begins again, just like legends. Just like the Witch in our story.

Prelude to Chapter one (1) “The Leech Cemetery Witch.”

“Such a magical environment is inevitably bound to give birth to endless fairy tales. Stories as ancient as the mountains themselves. Passed down through generations by elders sitting by glowing hearths before wide-eyed children. Who in amazement, absorb long epic chants of hardship and sacrifice, tales of ghosts and wraiths, life and death, bravery and honor. Stories of a fairy tale past which with the passage of time take on a life of their own.

How I enjoyed those stories, sitting before the fire, absorbing them like raindrops on dry clay. As I close my eyes the faint hint of smoke from a roaring fire teases me, calling me back to a time long ago.

Now accepted as fact not simple folklore, time renders these tales carved in stone and just as certain as God’s creation. Ignoring, or heaven forbid denying such tales, was tantamount to blasphemy. After all, granny with her lips lined with dried snuff was never wrong and never to be doubted.

It was during one such particular fall as this, that one such particular fable as this, would capture the imaginations of one such particular, and possibly brazen group of boys as this. And just like all good stories, present itself completely and undeniably irresistible.

The resulting adventure would prove to be the first of many to come. And in many ways shape the lives of four young friends and one other, whom as I look back through the eyes of an old man, realize had just as much to learn, perhaps even more than our-selves. Our adventure starts as many do, in a rather boring, not to mention pitifully small hometown.

A coal-mining town nestled deep in the Tennessee mountains. Small by any standard, and like most towns in coal country; time was slowly but surely passing us by. The town stores and buildings seemed well aware that death was slowly reclaiming them. Returning them back to the earth from where they came. We all felt it in one way or the other, the entire settlement was well and truly fading into history.

Our players include my quite young self, a rather handsome young’un if I may be so bold as to say so. Three somewhat meddlesome friends, but tried and true all of em, and of all people, the class bully.

Add an ill-conceived exchange of home-made liquor, an old cemetery complete with a rumored witch. Stir in a hollow grave-marker guarded by a ghost dog, the promise of answered questions, and you got yourself one heck of a story.

Oh! And I can’t forget; one thin, some-what scruffy old man whom it would turn out, had a far greater role to play in our story, and our lives than any of us ever imagined possible.

So dear reader, if I may have a bit of your time, find yourself a warm hearth, a comfortable chair, maybe a warm cup of cocoa, and let’s get started.”

Gulf Coast Poet

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