In the garden; God placed an Apple.

It’s been said; “Be careful of what you ask for, you just might get it.” We’ve all heard it, you might think given my age, I would have learned that by now. Unfortunately, even in my fifties I still catch myself looking over the proverbial fence, admiring the “greener” grass and staring at things that aren’t mine. Yes, yes, I know it’s wrong, but there I am, staring at things that ain’t mine yet covet just the same.

I believe this is a character defect shared by the vast majority of adults, the new car, the gold watch, bigger better house (with the pool), or possibly a handsome young man or beautiful young lady. Always that shiny bobble calling to us, beckoning just on the other side of the fence, so close we can almost touch it, but just out of reach.

Even as a child I seemed to possess that undeniable urge. I tend to comfort myself with the knowledge that it is arguably the most common of character defects. In my humble opinion, one shared by all of us if we were completely honest with ourselves. That thought brings me to our story; I hope you enjoy it.

Behind papaw’s auto shop stretched a large field, complete with several old cars and trucks scattered randomly within the tall grass and weeds. The collection included several makes and models, all in various stages of rust and decay. Slowly returning to the earth, completing the cycle of life and death.

Those rusting hulks provided endless places to play, endless opportunities for journeys far and wide. The perfect environment for the nurturing of a young boy’s growing imagination, not to mention a place to hide when we got in trouble.

My brother and I had certain areas of the field set up for specific adventures. Complete with small roads and tunnels, custom made for Hot Wheels and other small vehicles. Construction areas for “Tonka” trucks and dozers’ were set up, roads were cut, and dams were built there, miniature metropolises sprouted from the red dirt as if by magic.  In other areas, wars were fought, and battles raged. Miniature soldiers took shelter behind plastic tanks and small lumps of coal, if we were lucky enough to possess firecrackers, well, it should go with-out saying, things went nuclear.

At the bottom of the driveway grew a large willow, its branches curved back to the ground like an umbrella, creating a secret world within the leaves. We often hid under this canopy in search of solitude, or perhaps escape the abuse we often suffered by the hands of the men in the family.

Even on the hottest of days the canopy provided a shaded and cool world, cut off from the troubles of life. Countless adventures began and ended there. I personally visited every corner of the planet under those branches, from the pyramids of Egypt to the dense rain forests of Africa.

But it was the other end of the field that called to us that one hot summer, the far upper corner. We didn’t know it then, but a trap had been set for two young boys, a trap most foul.

 An old barbed wire fence enclosed our property, ancient and rusted. Covered to the point of collapse by honeysuckle and poison ivy. If my memory serves me, there was even an old wild muscadine vine growing there as well, though the berries weren’t very good. Small and bitter, acidic to say the least, but that didn’t stop us from eating them, not by a long-shot. There we would sit my brother and I, both of us stuffing our faces and grimacing at the taste of the foul little berries. It was a contest of sorts, to see which one of us would give up, giving the other bragging rights in regard to how tough we were.

Then there was the honey-suckle, oh the honey-suckle. The smell of those sweet flowers never seems to leave our memories. Even in our waning years, just a brief whiff instantaneously transports us back to a hot summer and our childhood. See, you’re think about them right now.

No decent kid could pass those little flowers without stopping to pluck a blossom, then carefully remove the stem and enjoy the nectar that dripped from the end. Any honey suckle professional knew the best ones were the yellow ones. I can’t begin to guess the amount of time spent plucking those blooms, by the way, the flowers don’t taste like the nectar at all, take it from a pro. They have a bitter taste that seems to linger in your mouth forever. Trust me on this.

Morning Glories grew there also, special flowers Morning Glories, great patches of color in the early morning mist, but doomed to fade away with the rising temperature. Then as if by magic, there they were the next morning bright as ever. They hadn’t died, they had simply bowed their heads and closed their eyes to avoid the summer heat, only to wake up the next morning, bright as ever.

 Funny thing about them, the moment you picked one it would die, no, not in a couple of days like daisy’s, but just as soon as it was pulled from the vine it began to wilt. Life lesson there I s’pose’ but, I’m not gonna go there now. We have far more pressing matters to discuss, far more pressing indeed, and it had everything to do with that far corner of that field.

You see, there was a single bare spot on that old fence in that far corner. A spot without doubt, placed there by the devil himself for the sole purpose of tempting two young boys.

A panoramic view to be sure, framed by honeysuckle and muscadine vines, then edged with bright morning glories. A frame worthy of the finest painting, in the finest of faraway museums. A view of what you may ask, well now, that’s our story ain’t it?

 You see just on the other side of that old fence, just in the perfect spot to be viewed by prying eyes, grew the most beautiful apple tree on God’s good earth. The only other tree what could possibly compare was most surely the original located in the garden of Eden.

Consequently, the grass under said tree lay decorated with the most beautiful apples we had ever seen. And in the midst of those beautiful apples, laying there in the neatly mowed grass, rested the king of all Apples. Taunting the two of us, calling the two of us, easily 100 times the size and color of all the other apples in the world. Perfect in every way, and there it was, under that tree calling us from a distance, and we wanted it.

 There was one tiny little problem, you see, it weren’t ours, the tree grew on the wrong side of the fence. That one of a kind tree belonged to our neighbor. A kindly man as I recall, a man of gentle spirit and portly in nature, and if my memory serves me, a salesman of some sort. A big cigar was usually clinched between his teeth and his head was always covered with a fedora. Complete with hat band and small feather for decoration.

He usually drove huge cars that reeked of cigar smoke and old man smell inside, but always spotless and polished on the outside. I’m sure he would have given us any number of apples had we only asked, but that thought never seemed to cross our minds.

Every day we ran to that bare spot and stared through the frame. Just to make sure it was still there, to gaze upon it and to make certain it was safe, and to dream.

 Crossing the fence meant certain death for sure should we get caught. We imagined the old man running across the yard, grabbing us by the scruff of the neck, and dragging us like two sacks of taters back to our dad and papaw.

The thought sent chills down our spines; the resulting beatings were too much to comprehend. So, after days of thought and nights of dreaming, we did what any street-savvy maladjusted pair of young boys would do, we formulated a plan.

Keep your enemies close. Right?

 Running as fast as we possibly could and completely out of breath we crashed into the shop. Inside we found both dad and papaw working on a customer’s car. Breathlessly we began to share the apple story.

Painting a masterpiece with our words. The most beautiful apple in the world we said, a chance to see such a thing happened only once in a lifetime we said, if we were lucky. Surely, they wouldn’t want to miss such an opportunity, they simply had to see such a sight with their own eyes. We saw it as our duty, no, our calling, to retrieve such a prize and show it to the world.

In an act of bravery, (no), an act of personal sacrifice not seen since the beaches of Normandy, we volunteered to cross enemy lines and rescue that apple and bring it back for both of them to see, both of them to enjoy.

 Papaw simply looked down at the both of us, then without a word turned and continued his work. Dad looked at us and with a small shake of his head did the same. We took this lack of rejection as proof of permission, so off we ran, hard as our legs could carry us, back to the bare spot in the fence.

 We arrived there completely out of breath, our hearts beating wildly, partially due to the sprint, but mostly the excitement. We had been waiting for this, the moment had finally come, it was time to act. I was the oldest so of course, I talked my little brother into the dangerous part. I would pull apart the rusty barbed wire, so he could get through, and make the run. We had to be quick, even though we knew we had permission from the men, there was still the ever-present danger of being caught by Mr. Murphy and we certainly didn’t have his permission.

 I grabbed the wire with both hands pulling it apart, my brother then dove through the opening and jumped to his feet. Running like a rabbit he made his way to the tree, fell to his belly and grabbed the apple. Then, apple in hand, sprinted back at breakneck speed. I pulled the wires apart as he shot through the hole like a circus acrobat.

Out of breath and full of adrenaline we sat there for a second, looking at each other, basking in a sense of glory and accomplishment the likes of which neither of us had ever felt. In our minds we had accomplished a feat equal to a Nazi raid by Patton’s army, at that moment we were our own heroes.

 After we allowed our hearts time to slow down a bit, we finally looked down at the apple, it was huge, easily the size of an adult’s open hand, the color was perfect, the shape was perfect, it was just as wondrous in hand as it was under the tree, but as he began to roll the apple in his hand our hearts sank.

A flood of disappointment, despair, and remorse fell upon us, we had been cheated. As he turned the apple in his hand, we could see the entire bottom was rotten, decayed from weeks laying on the wet ground, the rest of the flesh had gone soft and inedible, all that decay was covered over by the beautiful skin.

 The apple we had so coveted, so longed for was a lie, (get the message here?) a trap and we were certain it was set by the devil himself, just for the two of us. He fooled us the same way he fooled Eve, and we were devastated. With a heavy heart and a rotten apple in hand, we slowly made our way to the shop.

 The men were still working on the car as we walked up and showed them the apple. Dad was the first to speak as we stood there. Well did you boys git it? He asked. Yea, I replied, but look at it, its rotten on one side. It looked a lot different from our side of the fence. He looked at us both, mad as hell, you boys stole something today and that makes you thieves. You know what happens when you steal don’t you?

My brother and I looked at each other in utter panic. But we had permission we cried. You said we could yer self.

“I didn’t say a damn thing” came the response.

The hairs on our necks stood on end, a sharp pain shot through our stomachs, the kind that comes only in times of extreme terror. We were about to get a beating and we knew it.

 So, we did what any kid would do, we started crying at the top of our lungs. I mean screaming so loud the neighbors had to hear, remorse was our only defense. We knew all too well what a whipping meant; we had endured far too many. The best we could hope for was bruising, but the worst, well we don’t want to go there.. He would get angrier with every strike, he didn’t know when to stop, at times it took days to recover.

 This time was different, as dad began to remove his belt, papaw walked over and stood between the two of us and our executioner. He pointed his finger squarely at dad’s face.

“You had the chance to tell ’em boys not to take that apple just a short while ago, but you just kept yer mouth shut. If you go and try to whip ’em boys now then I’m gonna whip you”

Dad thought about papaw’s words for a second, then with a look of defeat, slowly began to put his belt back on.

With rotten apple in hand we both turned, and walked away.

 We both learned a lesson that day, I’ll go as far as to say our dad learned one as well. So many things look better over the fence. We can’t help but look over to see how they sparkle and shine.

Most folks just look and wonder “what if.” But from time to time some fall victim to ol’ Scratches trap, they try to justify their desires, be it a new car, another job, or some other worthless bobble. Grown-ups don’t have the rusted ol’ fence with pretty Morning Glories and Honey Suckle. I think that kinda trap is for young boys.

As adults we may see younger, richer, or prettier on the other side of the fence. Oft times leaving families in fragments and trails of broken lives behind us. We see and hear about it almost every day. But, in reality it’s all an illusion really. A lie placed there by the devil, waiting for some unfortunate soul to look through the Honey Suckle and Muscadine. Gaze through the pretty frame, and thus fall victim to the bare spot in the fence.

This is one of many memories from my childhood, yes it’s really a true story. I didn’t grasp the lesson until I laid my childhood to the side and spoke as a man. I remember most of these tales as they were just yesterday. But cancer is now slowly stealing them from me. I find comfort in these stories as often as I can, and now I share them with you. Just remember, though framed in pretty flowers and berries, be wary of what you may see on the other side of the fence. If you enjoyed my little tale all I ask in return is a simple “like” or a “share.” The share would be nice. Please don’t forget to follow this page as well.

From the bottom of my heart; Thank You, from The Tin Cup Clan.

Where does the T.C.C. call home?

Where do the boys in The Tin Cup Clan live?

I get asked that a lot. I reckon the answer’s not what you may think. The town is actually an aggregate of all the places I’ve been fortunate enough to call home, (and there’s been a few). I felt it was very important that everyone who reads the books recognize at least a little part of it. This way anyone and everyone can feel part of the T.C.C. The train tracks for example, the pair run smack down the center of main street, much like a town I lived in on the East coast. The creepy cemetery, well every town has one, just ask the local youth. Even the local witch legend, it seems every town has their own version, and every middle school in America once had a Mr. Bill.

Even though the town could be any where, it’s role as a mid-century Appalachian coal town is vital to the story. The boys must navigate childhood as their parents cope with the economic hardships felt by all during the slow death of the coal industry and textile mill closings.

The somber nature of the area should not be the primary focus. Hardship breeds strength, I believe that strength shines in the people. “Big” David’s family for example, his Christian upbringing, strength of character, and wisdom beyond his years, eventually saves the lives of two of our boys.

In closing.

As to your question. “Is it my town?” The answer is both no and yes, I hope everyone, everywhere, recognizes a little bit. That’s what makes it “our” town, and that’s what makes the “Tin Cup Clan” our boys.

A master of everything “Shag” Branch

By Michael Miller

I do my best with finding a “balance” of sharing short stories, things to think about, and of course filling everybody in on the “Tin Cup Clan.” But from time to time a certain story in particular may hound me to no end. I am truly honored (not to mention humbled) that folks find these words worthy of their time and stop just for a while and read them.

The following is one of those “particular” stories. It’s by no means a biography, far from it. It’s in it’s simplest definition, the recollections of a very young boy regarding a kind old man.

As an adult I admit these tales may contain a great deal of hyperbole, But I believe it is of great importance they remain as seen from very young eyes. If we take away one thing from the following tale I hope that we realize that oft times it’s not the huge accomplishments, the larger than life personalities, or the loudest voice that impacts a young life. It’s far more likely to be the quiet gentle spirit, the comforting touch, and the soothing nature that soaks into our souls never to leave us. We never know how great an impact we may have on some one else.

With that firmly in mind, my friends I humbly give you ” The story of “Shag” Branch.

          Market morning found us up at the crack of dawn comfortably dressed and in possession of at least two burlap tater sacks per person.

Along the way, we would frequently stop along the creeks to collect watercress, for those not in the know, these were wild growing greens, a popular and much needed staple in the mountains. They were common in small running streams or road-side ditches. Our mother could spot the little plants a mile away but unfortunately, I never really got the hang of it.

The ditches also required close inspection as they may hide soda bottles; as little boys we could spot the glint of a partially buried bottle from a mile away. These bottles were common forms of currency among kids and were highly sought after. The going rate for an eight-ounce bottle was five cents, the sixteen-ounce bottle ten-cents, but the elusive two-quart bottle brought a whopping twenty five-cents on the open market.

On rare occasions, we were able to fill a sack on our way to the store. Off we would go, our full sacks clinking with every step, our shoulders bent from the weight and our minds racing with the dreams of things we could buy with our new-found riches.

When we arrived at the train crossing, both of us would carefully rest our sacks and run a few feet down the track. On top of the glistening rail, we each placed a few pennies, (we’ll discuss the reason for this little act later) then hurried back to our waiting mother to continue our journey.

 Along the way, my brother and I swapped stories, argued back and forth, gave each other Indian burns, and exchanged punches to each other’s arms.

One favorite topic that always seemed to bring a smile to our faces involved the grocery store owner. We weren’t sure why, but he possessed the annoying little habit of walking around with his fly open.

We weren’t sure why, this may have been due to a mechanical malfunction, or perhaps he needed the additional ventilation. Maybe his big belly simply obstructed his view.

Whatever the reason you can be sure it was the first thing my brother and I checked upon arrival. If indeed it was in the down position it brought no small number of giggles between the two of us. This always produced a puzzled look on the ol’ feller’s face, I don’t think he ever figured it out, or more probable, just didn’t care.

Now you may think that growing up in such a rural area provided few opportunities to rub elbows with notoriety. Well my dear friend I’m afraid you couldn’t be more mistaken.

You see, we had in our very midst an individual of the highest social order. A world-class orator, not to mention an international traveler of the highest caliber. A bonafide expert in countless legal matters, a gifted politician, and believe it or not a meteorologist. I believe he was also a magician as well, but I can’t prove it.

This feller even published an annual article in the town newspaper, forecasting weather and crop predictions. His wise advice was sought by many in city government on all matters of the greatest importance.

And last but certainly not least, he usually served as grand-Marshall in all the local parades. An honor he retained in perpetuity.

This wonder of evolution, this walking talking repository of human knowledge was known to one and all as “Shag Branch” what follows is my recollection of him. (Though I’m sure not entirely accurate).

 Shag was a jolly old man; I don’t recall ever seeing him without a broad smile across his round face. He kept a small thin pipe clenched tightly between his teeth at all times. The pipe was such a permanent accessory, it wore little notches into his teeth as he held it tight. Just a little taller than he was round but far from fat (pudgy really), if I were forced to put it to words, I would say “papaw” size.

He always wore the same outfit, medium grey slacks just slightly short at the cuff. (All the men wore trousers with cuffs in those days). Being a careful man, he wore both a belt and a pair of light grey suspenders. Totally ignoring the old saying “a man that wears both, wears no underwear.” Above the trousers, he wore a long sleeve button down shirt with a small plaid pattern, at the base of the neck a crisp white t-shirt was visible. Finishing off the look was a matching grey coat.

Upon his neatly trimmed grey head rested a dark grey fedora (worn by most men of the day). But the hat itself wasn’t the remarkable part, no not by a long shot.

 This man was a walking talking amusement park from head to toe. A silver chain encircled his waist, carefully woven through each belt loop. Further up on his person dangled two pocket watch chains on each, yes I said “each” of his lapels.

Hanging from all five chains were toys from countless bubblegum machines, and keys from countless unknown locks. They jingled when he walked, making the man a walking, talking calliope. These were not the cheap stickers and tattoos kids pay fifty cents for from modern machines, oh no, far from it.

Here hung the good stuff, die cast metal cars with working doors and spinning wheels, colorful carousel ponies with moving legs, airplanes with spinning propellers, spaceships, and little metal soldiers and kazoos. Millions upon millions of toys and dangling keys.

The chains hung heavy with all manner of wonders; every kid knew this was the real reason he wore both a belt and suspenders. He had too, if his trousers were to fall, they were sure to crack the pavement. Silver whistles of all shapes and sizes, some even with the little pea inside dangled from both lapels.

 The wonder didn’t stop there, far from it, each of his suspenders were completely covered from top to bottom with badges and pins of every description and color of the rainbow. Election badges from the past eighty or so years. War effort badges from every conflict since WWI, and he had stories for every last one of them.

Even the fedora was decorated with the overflow, all firmly attached to the hat band and completely encircled his head.

To a child, he was a wonder to behold, and mesmerizing to listen too. but still it got better.

The grocery store was small by modern standards but huge for the day. Entering the store, you were immediately greeted by an assortment of bubblegum machines, just past those sat a large grey safe (just like the ones in westerns).

Between the safe and the machines sat a little metal chair and there sat Shag, smoking his pipe and twirling his cane. Every single soul entering or exiting the Piggly Wiggly received a wink and a wave.

 Mothers filled their buggies with needed supplies while the kids sat in a circle around the old man. With legs crossed and mouths open we listened to stories about lands we would never see; oceans we would never cross, and fantastic characters we would never meet. Every toy had a story, every pin had a history, and we sat there soaking them all in.

 All the while smoke from his pipe escaped from the gap in his teeth. He could blow four or five rings in a row; they would hang there midair like they were tied to the ceiling with an invisible string. If you were careful enough you could slip your arm up through the center and pretend, they were cloud bracelets. He would slap his knee and giggle with delight at our efforts.

The rings floated there, amazing us until someone walked by disturbing the calm air and making them fade away.

  Soon the shopping was done, and our mothers would come to collect us. Before we left, we would climb into his lap blow a whistle with the pea inside and give the old man a hug. I remember he smelled of pipe tobacco and mothballs, a truly wonderful scent, I imagined it was how a papaw should smell and I was sad when it was time to leave.

We each got a sack, now heavy ladined with groceries and started on our way home. Conversations were somewhat somber on the way back; mother was worried about supper and my brother and I were thinking of the chores that awaited us. These thoughts forced us to quicken our pace a little even with the extra burden we now carried.

 When we arrived at the train tracks, we set our groceries on the ground and ran to the spot where we left the pennies earlier. They were now paper thin, smashed from the weight of a passing train’s wheels.

Lincolns silhouette could still be seen even though the surface was now smooth and slick. With a smile, we put them in our pockets, we now had something to trade with at school. (see, I told you there was a reason). If fate was kind to us, a neighbor may chance to drive by, of course they would always stop and offer our little band of vagabonds a ride.

My brother and I would sit on the tailgate, feet dangling over the edge just inches above the road surface. Staring down at our feet, we were filled with the sensation of flying over vast landscapes, we imagined ourselves in a supersonic jet, skimming over endless unknown jungles.

All to soon we would arrive at our destination and the ride would be over. We grabbed our sacks and walked up the drive, back to the real world. Such as it was on market day.

I went back home just a few years ago; the Piggly Wiggly is now long gone. The tracks are still used to this day but the rails have lost most of their shine. Weeds now grow in the ditches that once grew water cress and soda bottles.

I’m sure the old man has gone through those pearly gates. I like to think of him sitting there, showing off his baubles to a more heavenly crowd. I doubt he ever realized the effect he had on so many young lives, how many fond memories he left behind.

These are the memories of a child. And like pictures in a coloring book, subject to which-ever bright coIor deemed pleasing to the artist. I reckon few down here remember him now; but I do. Now you will as well…. his name was “Shag Branch.”

Please… If you enjoy these ramblings, hit like, follow, or share. Or better yet, leave a comment. The Tin Cup Clan will be forever in your debt. Until next time, Thank You.

Mr. Bill’s “shadow theory”

Excerpt Chapter 22:

Bill scratched his head through his paper hat and took long pull from his cigarette. Then, with a long almost burdened breath blew the smoke into the rain.

I figure… everybody’s life leaves behind a mark, a kind of shadow that hangs around long after we’re gone. The longer the life, the longer the shadow. Like ours does now when the sun gits lower in the sky.

Fer example, you’re just a boy, the sun’s still high on ye, shadows rather small. Me? Well… I’m a bit older, suns’ getting’ mighty low and my shadows got bout as long as it’s gonna git.

Now, in those shadows rest our story’s, the longer the shadow, the more story’s a bodies got to tell. He held his thin arms outstretched, proudly displaying his old tattoos’.

Ye see these pictures here? They’s a story behind each and every one of em. Some good, some not so good. Yes sir. I reckon I got myself a mighty long shadow by now. One of these days, I’ll tell ye bout em. He stared hard at the faded drawings. As he looked at each one, I could see the memories march across his face.  

Now if yer askin’ me what I think. Well…I believe the good Lords give each of us a limit as to how long he allows our shadow to git. But all too often, some unfortunate soul gits their shadow cut short, unnatural like. I figure that leaves some of em a might upset.

Now I cain’t tell ye if they’s a witch up there or not. But I can tell ye this, I figure if anything rests neath that stone, it was done wrong once upon a time. Good or bad, it ain’t much for sufferin’ any manner of company. A body might do well to steer clear of it.

With that, he smacked his hands on his knees. Then standing up straight flicked his cigarette into a puddle. But that’s just my two cents young man… just my two cents.

I reckon we got some work to do, we best be getting’ back to it. He turned and walked inside leaving me standing there with a confused look on my face.

I finished the rest of the day pondering Mr. Bill’s words. I wasn’t sure if he was telling me not to go, or, maybe, going was gonna be part of my story. I thought about the shadows. I thought about how long my papaws had to be, and how long my ma’s was meant to be. I even wondered how long mine… or my friends was gonna be. I left that ol’ man a heap more confused than when I first got there. But some-how I felt a heap better for it.

Before I knew it, the gloomy day had passed me by and it was time to go home. The rain seemed to have let up a bit, but still it soaked us to the bone. I looked down as I boarded the bus just out of curiosity… no shadow.

I’m just figuring this out as I go. Cancer Sucks

By Michael Miller

I had to think about this post for a bit. I’m new to this blogging thing, having said that, I’ve come to the harsh realization that most folk expect uplifting, positive words, (generally speaking). Lord knows I’ve plenty of those I promise. I’ve been truly blessed in my years, so in June of 2017 when I got the news about this cancer thing it threw me for a loop.

It dawned on me, not a burning bush kinda thing, but a slow almost lifting of the curtain kinda thing. I am blessed with four wonderful children, three fabulous grand babies and it get’s even better, four more on the way. Yea…can you say proud?

But I hadn’t told them who they are, what they’re about, or the kind of blood that courses through their veins. I found myself suddenly running out of time and they needed to know they have a foundation. A rich history built upon strong backs and even stronger character.

The titles of Appalachian and Hillbilly have become buzz words these days. Our heritage seems to have fallen victim to pseudo documentaries, falsified reality shows, and Red-neck this or Red-neck that. It seems just about anyone who can say Yeehaw is trying to make a buck. The entire mess is just simply revolting. Being from the mountains is something I’m very proud of, it’s who I am and I wear the title with pride.

Thus The Tin Cup Clan was born. Not just the book series but the stories as well. The series is very loosely based on my childhood, (with artistic license). But the stories, well they’re true memories. The dialect is real, the folks were real, the lessons are real.

This damned cancer, along with the endless radiation and rounds of chemotherapy is slowly but surely erasing these from my mind. It scares me, I’ve always envisioned myself as one of “those” who could handle anything. This time not so much.

We’ve all seen the commercials and news spots. Happy faces, smiling with the colorful head-scarves, laughing as they run “Relays for life” and all that jazz. Interviews where family and friends band together support the unfortunate “cancer victim.” Like most, that’s what in the back of my mind I figured was gonna happen.

It didn’t. Not in my case.

Nope, when I heard the words “advanced stage IV” I simply got mad, mad as hell. For a while I expected all the fan fair, family, and all the ooey-gooey stuff to happen. I began to resent the very ones who loved me. Then it hit me. I was expecting far more than the average person could handle. It took me a while to realize my expectation of them was just as out of kilter as any of those P.S.A.’s that I had come to despise. My beloved family had in reality, far more on their plate than I did. My life, (or what was left of it), my happiness, was my responsibility and mine alone. I had no right to expect more of them than I did myself.

With that firmly in mind, I was forced to rethink everything. I picked up a pen and began writing. I had no idea how to, I simply wrote. I have a purpose now, a calling if I can be so bold. Record who I am, what I’ve done, make em laugh, make em cry, “bleed onto the page” as Hemingway said, and give my family roots.

The books as well as this blog will hopefully long outlast me, (but the last time I checked there ain’t no expiration date on me anywhere, and I’ve looked). I figure I’m gonna be around for quiet some time. I hope all who reads them takes a bit away with them. I would very much appreciate a “like” or even a “share”. Oh, and no I haven’t had the need of a head-scarf, but I got a really nice Bowler hat.

Turkey Delivery

          By Michael Miller

Autumn in the hills of East TN is a very special time. The smell of fresh-cut hay hangs heavy in the cool crisp air. Hills and hollers are dressed in their Sunday best; sporting vivid hues of orange, red and gold. An elegant mist hovers at tree-top level, just as a bride wears her veil on her wedding day. Ridges and hill tops randomly pierce the fog; a high vantage point reveals an illusion of scattered islands in a distant sea.

I love walking through this wood in Autumn, it’s a delight to the senses, the fallen leaves give way under foot with a pleasing crunch. Squirrels are heard chattering in the tree-tops as they go about their day; collecting hickory nuts and other winter staples. A nip hangs in the air; just enough to tingle the nose and cool the lips.

          A few years ago, I was enjoying such a bucolic setting as this, as I recall, it was in the month of November and Thanksgiving was closing fast A cool Friday afternoon found me on my way home from work; via one of the many mountain back-roads. Life was about to change suddenly for three complete strangers, and, if I may be so bold as to speculate; I don’t believe any one of us would ever be the same.

This little story involves myself, a stranger driving an old pick-up truck, and one shall I say, soon to be mortally wounded wild Tom turkey.

          You see, Autumn in the hills of East Tennessee usually requires accommodating the seasonal influx of tourists, hundreds of thousands of millions of em, [leaf peakers,] as the locals know em.

Driving about in mass; wearing funny outfits while snapping countless pictures of our little slice of paradise. All the while managing to assault what-ever species of local wildlife, unfortunate enough to have been caught out in the open.

          The main roads are soon congested with vehicles sporting tags from all the lower forty-eight, and a few regions of Canada as well. Traffic jams ten miles in length are not uncommon; forcing tempers to run high and patience to run low. It’s an annual ritual local folk have come to expect; and subsequently prepare for.

          The best defense is a firm familiarity with the countless backroads and trails; known only to the fortunate folk who call this place home. Failure to provide one’s self with a proper means of ingress and egress usually result in countless hours, sitting grid-locked within a sea of vehicles.

          This particular year found me to be the fortunate owner of one nineteen and eighty-five Chevy Celebrity. A fine chariot to say the least, lime green in color both inside and out. The color was further highlighted with a rich earthy patina, providing this chariot with an aura of maturity and glamour unmatched by the likes of newer vehicles. The look was further accentuated by no less than four, that’s right, four doors.

          The interior was no less awe-inspiring, cool lime green velour seats complete with the highly sought after, spilled coffee stain option. The head-liner was covered with delaminating fabric, sagging down and rubbing the top of my head it clung tenaciously to the ceiling, held in place by countless strategically placed thumb-tacks in a rainbow of colors.

          Of course, at least two of the power windows were non-functional. This combined with the broken air-conditioner and coolant leak blessed the lucky driver (me) with a free sauna on the way home. “Hey, you know people pay real money for that stuff, right?”

          The ol’ girl ran pretty well; even considering the fact she burnt nearly as much oil as gasoline. She even had a built-in mosquito repellent. A simple stop for traffic or red lights brought puffs of smoke from around the hood. Thereby causing the occasional panic among fellow motorists, while eliminating those pesky insects so bothersome during the summer months.

          This busy fall afternoon found me on my way home via one of the many back-roads. There I was, driving along, admiring the fall colors, and enjoying the cool fall air, with hints of oil smoke. Behind me a fellow motorist in an old truck followed at a distance.

           November meant Thanksgiving was just around the corner, so thoughts of the coming celebration filled my mind. Filled it to such an extent as to leave me oblivious to the sharp curve slowly approaching. I came to my senses just in time to set the car into a comfortable path around the bend, when there he was, out of nowhere. Smack in the middle of the road, smack in the middle of the curve.

          The biggest dog gone turkey I had ever laid eyes upon, and friend I’ve seen a few. There was no time to react, no time to swerve, the situation looked calamitous for sure. I’m certain this predicament looked even more depressing from that poor ol’ turkey’s point of view.

There he was, minding his own, having a joyful little turkey sort of day, hens were all happy, little turkey babies were all happy, by all account’s turkey life was good.

Just then out of the blue, a big ol’ green piece of what-ever it was comes careening around the curve, barreling down on this poor feller at a breakneck speed. At this point you gotta wonder, did his life pass before his eyes, were there things left undone, things left unsaid.

These are questions best left to poets, philosophers, and truth seekers alike, sadly we may never know. For a split second, I believe we made eye contact, a connection of sorts. Two hapless souls for whom on this particular day fate firmly placed them in the wrong place at the wrong time, and then it happened… A sickening thud.

I felt the poor fellers body bounce between the undercarriage and the road for what seemed an eternity, finally and gruesomely exiting the rear of the vehicle. I looked to my mirror to witness this poor lifeless bird flailing about as he tumbled down the road. Finally, coming to rest in the left-hand ditch row. There he lay, lifeless by the roadside.

Now here my dear friend is where that hardwired hillbilly instinct of mine kicks in. Like I said, it was almost Thanksgiving; and that was one hell of a bird lying there in yon ditch. Hunters dream about a bird such as this, most never come across one of this magnitude in a lifetime. The only ones that could possibly compare sit mounted on walls at the local sporting goods store. Yet there it lay, in a ditch, on a lonely country back road.

I threw the green hornet in park and ran to the ditch where the body lay. By this time, the ol’ boy in the truck had caught up and had stopped dead in the middle of the road to watch the goings on.

He shoved his head out the door window and yelled; “That’s one hell of a bird boy.”

I looked down at the lifeless body; then gave the head a sharp kick, all the while ready to sprint to the car with the first sign of life.

“Is he dead?” He yelled.

Yea, looks like it I said, knocked his left eye clean out of his head.

“If you don’t want im, I’ll take im off yer hands fer ye,”

Naw, I got im, I hollered back; trying my best to appear calm in light of the prize laying at my feet. Here lay some heavy bragging rights. I imagined the accolades, the atta boys, the pats on the back. Did you hear about the turkey ol’ Mike got?

Sure did, they would reply. I heard about it, big-un too I reckon.

Yep, I was gonna be a bonafide rock star.

I had been given, no blessed, with the means to supply my merry band of cracker-snatchers, with a bird the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Ebenezer Scrooge delivered the prize goose to the humble Cratchit family.

I grabbed the beast by both legs, his wings fell open as I hoisted him in the air. A five-foot wingspan if it was an inch, what a prize. With two thumbs up from my new-found friend in the truck, I made my way to the green hornet, prize in hand. Opened the rear door and chucked him into the back seat. After a quick wipe of my hands, I jumped in and resumed my way home.

As I drove down the road my heart was full of pride, my head full of, well, myself really. I practiced the story over and over in my head, honing each word until they were razor sharp. Surely, this story was destined to be repeated at all the Miller holidays for years to come. And then it happened!

Suddenly an explosion of noise and activity. I wasn’t sure where it started; it seemed to be coming from everywhere. All hell had broken loose in the back seat; and I didn’t know what to make of it.

Massive wings tore at the dangling headliner; thumbtacks flew about the interior like shrapnel. I was getting the hell beat out of me, those massive wings landed punches a prize fighter would have been proud of. The back of my neck was getting torn to pieces by the claws and what felt like twelve inch long daggers. It soon became apparent that there was only gonna be one winner in this fight, and my chances of victory looked mighty slim.

I fought to maintain control of the ol’ green car, swerving back and forth on the twisting mountain road. All the while I was being showered with turkey blood and feathers. I was afraid I was gonna run off the side of a ridge whilst I was trying to protect my face. It was complete and absolute bedlam in the purest sense.

In the midst of the confusion it dawned on me, the damn thing wasn’t dead. He had simply been knocked unconscious or playing possum. I didn’t really know or care which, but boy howdy was he ever upset. I just knew one of us had to have some relief, and it had to be quick.

He seemed to be everywhere at the same time, flapping, flailing, screaming (that’s right I said screaming.) I’m talking some God-awful screams. Well… looking back, the screams might have been mine, I’m not entirely sure.

In a split second of reasonable thought, I did the only possible thing. I slammed both feet on the brake petal and pushed with all I had.

The car came to a sliding halt; smack in the center of the road. It was all I could do to find the door handle. I fumbled about blindly, desperately, and with a final desperate lunge, jerked the handle with all my strength. As soon as I sensed an exit, I kicked open the door, and fell with a thud to the center of the road in a heap of blood, feathers, and turkey crap.

Needless to say, but I will anyway, it took a few seconds to regain any manner of composure. There I stood; alone in the middle of the road; staring at my car crammed tighter than corn on a cob with a whole bunch of raging turkey.

It was at this time my ringing ears detected a blaring car horn and the awfullest laughter I have ever heard. I turned around to see the ol’ boy in the pick-up; slapping his dash and laughing uncontrollably.

Boy he sure as hell showed you; that’s the funniest thing I ever saw.

Time after time he threw his head back laughing and gasping for air; sounding a lot like an old donkey.

He began to slowly pull around my car. Enjoy that bird boy; you might want to ask him for a ride home. I could hear the laughter as the old truck disappeared around the curve.

I stood there for a second, pondering the damage to my reputation once the driver got into town, what to do next.

Well, of course I needed to get him outta my car. I knew what to do, simply open both doors on one side and the bird would escape right? It’s common sense.

I ran over to the right side and grabbed the handle, locked, I grabbed the handle on the other door, locked, well that figures I said out loud. I ran back to the driver’s side; I knew those doors were unlocked.

When I opened that rear door that ol’ Tom shot outta that car like he had been fired from a cannon. He stopped about thirty feet away and stretched his wings, mocking me. He stood there, but just briefly, enjoying his victory, left eye dangling at the side of his head. Then turned and ran down through yon field.

I could only imagine the stories he was about to share with his turkey friends. He was about to be the bonafide hero not me. His story was about to be told to his turkey family not mine.

I grudgingly got in my ol’ car, the headliner now scattered about in pieces. Thumbtacks were scattered about like miniature landmines. Blood, feathers, and turkey crap was everywhere. I got stuck by at least three or four em. How the heck did crap get on the front windshield.

I wasn’t sure if the blood on my neck and face were mine or his. This was gonna be one heck of a story all right. And by the time the ol’ boy in the truck got home, I was gonna be famous that’s for sure. Lord, I could hear the tales now.

I put the car in drive and once again started home. Yes, we still tell stories about the turkey every Thanksgiving. My kids sit around with bated breath; tell us about the turkey daddy, tell us about the turkey. I do; and they laugh and laugh.

I’m grateful to that ol’ bird, and you should be too. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be able to laugh so hard every time we see a group of turkeys by the side of the road.

So… this holiday, after you and yours enjoy that fabulous meal. Tell em about the turkey, and how he…well, you finish that last part.

The Cryptic Mr. Bill

By Michael Miller

When I began to write The Tin Cup Clan the first character that came to mind was Mr. Bill. I hope that we all have cherished childhood memories of that “one” person that seemingly with-out knowing influenced us above all others. I count myself richly blessed as I have several to fall back on. Mr. Bill fits this description nicely.

Throughout the books Mr. Bill’s importance is slowly revealed. But as his influence on our boys is increases, the mystery of this old gentleman deepens. Ultimately leaving the boys with far more questions than answers.

Even when he is sharing his story with our group or lending sage advise there is an ever present aura of secrecy. Leading them all ask themselves, How does he know so much about each of the boys as well as their families? What does he know about the legends and above all, what’s he not telling us. No one in town really knows where he came from, it seems he’s just always been. Even the adults have childhood recollections of the kindly old man and his age is a mystery to this day.

By the end of “The Leech Cemetery Witch” he lets the boys in on one of his childhood exploits. Sending the Clan off on another adventure to a place known to locals as “The Blue Hole” and a long dead “shiner” known as Hambone. This revelation aptly becomes the title of the second in our series.

Excerpt Chap 18 The Leech Cemetery Witch

I found the ol’ man at his usual station, crisp white apron and matching paper hat. A pack of Camel cigarettes rolled tightly in the sleeve of his wrinkled white T-shirt. Both of his thin arms are covered with old military tattoos’. Anchors and hula girls, hearts with faded writing. Most had begun to fade beneath his leathery skin, betraying the ol’ man’s years. But one stood out; on the inside of his left wrist was a thin blue circle enclosing four sets of letters.

Well now; who do we have here? I was wondering about you. News travels fast round here ye know. Especially when it involves a high-profile felon such as yer self. You alright?

Yea, pap gave me a beatin’ but, I reckon I’ll live.

He stopped what he was doin’ and wiped his hands on his apron. He walked over and pointed to my shiner.

Was he the one what done that to your face?

Naw. That was from this mornin’, I kinda got into a scrape with Mark.

Mark? What Mark? You mean that Green boy? You’d best steer clear of his kind, ain’t nothin’ but trouble. You’re too good a young man to git tangled up with his kinda mess. His sort is like a tar baby, the more ye play with it, the more ye get on ye. Know what I mean sport?

If ye don’t mind me askin’. How’d ye come out anyways?

Pretty good I said proudly, I got more of him than he got of me.

He threw his head back in a loud laugh… Well, that’s the important thing he said, always make sure and leave yer footprint I always say. Specially if that print is right up the crack of his behind.

He threw me a new apron and paper cap. You’re gonna be workin’ next to me fer today, till you git the hang of it, then come tomorrow you’re on your own.

Mr. Bill, you ever heard any-thing bout that witch what’s sposed to be buried up at the old cemetery?

Huh… what in the world are ye talkin’ about son?

I went a little further, you know, the witch, the one folk talk about up at Leech cemetery.

He gave a moment’s pause, scratching his head thru his paper hat. I could tell he was thinking about what he was saying next. Yea he knew about her, I could tell by the way he was acting. He just didn’t know how to change the subject.

What’s a young-un like you wanna know about such gobble-de-gook as that fer?

I dunno, just curious I reckon.

He stopped loading the trays and pointed at me with a dirty fork. His tone and face turned dead serious.

Now, listen, and listen good and proper. You and your buddies need to stay well clear of that old cemetery. You hear? They ain’t been nothin’ but bad come from bein’ up there messing around where a body shouldn’t. You need to mind ol’ Bill you understand? Most folk say they’s evil up there, and believe you me young man, there’s more than one kind of evil, a lot more.

He turned and went back to loading the trays. I stood there for a second, pondering what the ol’ man had just said. His words sent a chill up my spine. I began to seriously doubt the wisdom in my little dare.

My time in the washroom flew by, it was soothing in a way. The clatter of trays and dishes, the warm steam coming from the washer. I even enjoyed the company. I was sorry that I had only three days here. I would be more than happy making it an everyday thing.

Too soon Bill walked up. That’s the last of em son. Looks like a job well done. I reckon I’ll be seein’ ye pretty regular for the next couple days, right?

Yes sir, I’ll be here, lookin’ forward to it. Hanging my apron up and throwing my paper hat in the trash, I ran to class. Bill’s ominous warning firmly in my head.

Back in the day, everybody owned an outhouse

By Michael Miller

Built onto the rear of my papaw’s auto-shop was the little two-room shack my mother, father and my brother and I called home. It wasn’t much by any standard, just a single bedroom shared by the four of us and an extremely primitive living area.

In the far corner of our living room sat a small table and a simple counter fashioned from an old piece of laminate, together these served as our so-called “kitchen.” Indoor plumbing was a dream yet to be realized, naturally this meant a great deal of time was spent carrying water up from papaw’s house.

We didn’t have a T.V., not even a radio. Even that was no deterrent come Saturday mornings,. That one special day of the week was sure to find us in papaw’s living-room, flat on our bellies, chins’ in our hands while we stared wide-eyed at the Saturday morning cartoons.

Living in a home free from the encumbrance of modern conveniences is a “joy” most young folks will regrettably never have the opportunity to experience. Such conditions made simple things such as taking a hot bath or relieving ones-self somewhat of a “big deal.” And as such, these ‘big deals” were accompanied by a great deal of pomp and circumstance.

Bathing for example was generally reserved for a Friday night and followed a very strict set of social protocols. Most important of which, and source constant aggravation on my behalf entitled the youngest to be first in the tub. This particular tradition was in my opinion, with-out doubt an early form of age discrimination.

I, being the older brother, as one might expect hated this rule. It usually meant I was forced to clean myself in a some-what slimy and always cold liquid that my mother loosely referred to as “water.” This so-called “water” came complete with all manner of flotsam and jetsam that may have been scrubbed from my little brother’s filthy body. Not to mention the public humiliation derived from being forced to bath in full public view smack dab in the center of the living room.

Of course, there was always the far less desirable option of walking down to papaw’s house and taking a shower deep in the bowels of his creepy basement. Which to this very day I swear was home to an entire community of various ghosts, goblins’, witches, and countless other dark and dangerous creatures of the night.

Anyone of the aforementioned creatures was forever on alert. Looking for that one careless child, only to grab said child and drag them kicking screaming and flailing to the furnace, then stuff the poor soul inside never to be seen again. All this suffering, just to make a boy’s dirty butt stop itching, and make us “in their opinion” more presentable to the general public. Highly overrated if you ask me.

In those days, a boy wasn’t worth his salt if he didn’t have some manner of earthly perfume following him about, and respect was earned by the number of black snakes (dirty rings around your neck) a body might accumulate in a short day’s time. At any rate, it was an absolute social injustice for a young boy to be forced to take a bath every blooming Friday.

To add insult to injury, no indoor plumbing meant no indoor toilet, that’s right none. That simple fact on it’s very own was enough to haunt the dreams of any “modern” kid. Not having an indoor toilet meant one thing and one thing only, we like most households back then relied on an old outhouse.

Now for the normal everyday run of the mill grownup this didn’t mean a whole heck of a lot, but for a kid, well, the old privy brought about a unique set of problems.

Most homes of the period placed a great deal of pride in their out-door toilets, most sported some manner of fancy cut out on the door, or maybe even some type of decorative landscaping around the perimeter. There were those who even went as far as to paint their little building to match the house, but we would never do that. I mean that would be kinda like putting on airs and everyone looked down on folk who tried that.

Our’s was pretty normal by the standards of the day. There was a half-moon cut into the door, and mother usually planted a few marigolds (left over from planting the garden) around the bottom, (they were used as natural insecticide by most folk). The wind and elements weathered the outside a warm natural grey. Sheets of rusted tin covered the roof and every year some species of small songbird would build its nest under the eave.

The most remarkable thing about our privy was the fact that it was a two-seater, (though I can’t imagine a person wanting company at such a private time). Otherwise the interior was pretty standard, containing the usual equipment, old newspapers, (for cleaning purposes) and the obligatory Sears and Roebuck catalog, (entertainment purposes) along with an old worn out fly swat.

It can be argued; an entire novel could be written based solely on countless childhood hopes and dreams brought about while perusing the wonder filled pages within that old catalog. It’s an absolute shame they are no longer printed.

However, any reasonably intelligent kid knows that amid all this tranquility a dark secret lies hidden deep within the outhouse. A secret known only to those less than thirteen years of age. You see, the various ghosts, demons, monsters, and other creatures that resided in papaw’s creepy basement had kinfolk.

Those kinfolk lived no where else but smack under the seat of that outhouse, that’s right, smack dab under the seat. We all knew that if we had to go number two after dark we put our very lives on the line.

Because resting just under that seat in the pitch black they waited, they waited for any unsuspecting kid to set his or her butt down. Then at that very moment they were known to grab you by the cheeks pulling you under into their world, no trace would be left, nothing. Nobody would ever know what happened to you, just, “poof”, gone forever.

To make matters worse; it was also a well-known and trusted fact, that the danger increased with the advancing hour of the night. This meant no reasonably intelligent kid would ever be caught dead out there at two or three in the morning. By this time we were certain that an absolute feeding frenzy was taking place deep under the outhouse.

What were we to do? Well, we did what any street-savvy, born an raised country kid would do, we formulated a plan. And a whopper at that.

This plan required a great deal of stealth and no small amount of courage.

The bed where my brother and I slept sat in the far-left corner of the bedroom, our parent’s bed sat in the far-right corner of the same room. The objective was the window on the right wall just a couple of feet from where my father lay sleeping.

At the very first bladder twinge the plan was immediately put into action. Planning was everything. What obstacles lay hidden that may hinder our approach? Where were the landmines of discarded shoes and dirty clothes located? What else lay on the floor, hidden in the dark just waiting to trip up some unfortunate soul? It could be anything, even a loose creaking floorboard.

Next were breathing patterns, a true veteran knew instinctively how to interpret breathing patterns of the grown-ups and the cadence of snores. Which ones meant deep sleep, and which ones meant danger. Eyesight was paramount as well; a kid had to have the eyes of an owl to notice subtle parental movements in the pitch black. All the while keeping a steady eye on the floor, scanning for obstacles.

It was a balancing act of course, and time was not on our side. Once the bladder started to fill, we were on an irreversible countdown. And the routine was always the same.

Quietly slip out of bed, silent footsteps on the bare wooden floor, watch for the work boots they can be deadly. Make certain to step over dad’s dirty work pants, all this while keeping an eagle eye on the sleeping parents. Carefully slip along dad’s side of the bed. Listen for the cadence, listen for the breathing patterns. Looking up for a split second I can see the window illuminated by the moonlight, I’m almost there.

Like a cat I slide along the wall until I reach the glass panes. Like a burglar I slowly slide the window up, old paint and dirt make it somewhat difficult. WAIT! dad begins to move, the cadence changes to a dangerous pattern, which can only mean light sleep.

Suddenly he rolls to his right side, I’m as still as death, the consequences of getting caught are too much to think about. After what seems like an eternity the cadence returns to a normal heavy sleep, snoring sets into a reassuring pattern, whew, that was close.

Finally move again, window is up and it’s time to empty bladder, the relief is almost beyond description, the feeling of accomplishment indescribable. As I stand there, I stare at the outhouse dimly back-lit by the hazy moonlight. With a smirk I say to myself, “not tonight monsters not tonight”, then turn and proudly make my way back to my bed.

There was always a mystery at our house, no matter how much the ol’ man mowed, no matter how much he fertilized or seeded, he simply could never get grass to grow beneath that bedroom window. My brother and I never told a soul till this very day, and as you can well see, the monsters never got us.

There are precious few outhouses now, and even fewer kids that know what one is, its time for that chapter to close I reckon. Time moves on and most things fade into the past, forgotten. The old shop is gone, as well as the two rooms we all called home. Even the bare spot under the window has been taken over by weeds. But I remember, and I hope my brother does as well.

Oh, but just one more note, I’m not really sure where the monsters live now a days. I’m sure they were forced to find employment elsewhere. Who knows, maybe even under our beds, waiting on an entirely new generation of kids. Well… at least that’s what I tell my kids anyway. When was the last time you looked under yours?

Every Class has A Bully

Mark’s character arguably has the most important role in the book. Proof that ofttimes there really are second chances in life. What we do with those chances is completely up to us, the results how-ever affect every one around us.

Excerpt: Chapter 2

There he was my mortal enemy, my worst nightmare, my one and only nemesis. An absolute giant by fifth grade standards, or any standard as far as we were concerned. At least one hundred and fifty pounds of muscle and mean. He keeps his blonde hair cut in a flat top so level you could build a house on it. He also wears a varsity jacket even though he was only in fifth grade, we don’t know where he got it, and it didn’t really matter. Besides; nobody was brave enough to ask him anyways.

As usual, his cronies surrounded him like he was the President. A pitiful lot all of em, clambering around, bending to his every whim. He took what-ever place in line that he wanted, slowing down only when he got to Mrs. Tuttle, he had to stop there.

Other kids vacated where-ever he and his posse decided to sit. Staying put was tantamount suicide. The best that one could hope for was losing part of your meal. The worst, well, made even the biggest kid shudder.

The Nature Of Memory

By Michael Miller

Memory is a wonderful thing I suppose. Wasted I dare say on the youth, treated as though it were not of very great value. I reckon that’s accurate in most ways, much like anything else in life right down to the most innocuous of objects, their perceived value must increase with time. Cheap wines, moldy cheese, old furniture, the value must ripen with age before the true worth is revealed and appreciated.

Memories, like tactile objects must ripen as well. Sadly treasures of the mind suffer far greater indignities than articles of a more tangible nature. We seem to color our memories to suit our taste, not in a futile effort to lie, far from it. But maybe an attempt to comfort ourselves in our later years. Nurse injured and bruised egos, our psyche binds these wounds as we would a bruise or broken bone. We the owners, are the only persons to know the severity or perhaps even the simplicity of the injury hidden beneath the volumes of bandage and gauze.

As with all things, each time the story of the bound wound is shared to family friends and strangers, we inadvertently add to the tale oh so slightly. So slightly as not to be noticed even by ourselves.  Soon we stand looking at ourselves in the mirror in wonder, awe, and fear. We can’t help but notice the massive binding, only to realize how through the countless retelling, the injury has grown, taken upon its-self a life of its own, completely autonomous of the host. We the owners are simply along for the ride. Soon we ourselves become the victim, unable or in some instances unwilling to remember the severity of, or lack there-of, what lies hidden beneath the wrappings.

Here slumbers the memories of a life. With each telling we subtly add to the story, building with each brick to make the beast worth retelling, upping the stakes as each hand is played. Wide eyed listeners wonder at tales of bravery, sacrifice and honor. ( When I was a kid we used to walk five miles in the snow to school, up-hill both ways). Ever hear that one? Even the teller absorbs completely into the telling, subconsciously puffing our egos and reeling in a subdued pride. We ourselves fall completely under the spell, victims of a sort and privately think more of our selves for the effort.

Don’t think me a antagonist, far from it. Nor do I attempt to devalue such memories. These are needed I believe. As much as the victories begin to take on a life of their own, things such as fanfare, bravery and strength of character, so do our many failings. Our perceived shortfalls and regrets draw breath, massive dark hearts pump guilt through our memories and soar as well. Covering our mind in with a monstrous shadow, leaving the good to wither in the darkness. You see, we add to these as well, just as our minds build the pleasant brick by brick into gigantic structures of pride. So we build and add to the sorrows of the past.

A response is required, a response as mighty as the beast that threatens mental destruction. We counter-attack, to retain a sane mind, the scales must at all times balance. Pushing the dark to the recesses, the cracks crevices and cupboards of our past, overcoming the dark with light. Enter stage right, the warm stories.

At some point; it’s different for every individual. We live to a point when life stops giving us things, only to begin taking those very things away. For me, there was no warning or alarm, no call to arms. I didn’t wake one morning and find I was less of a soul than the previous evening. For me the draining slowly soaked in, much like the slow leaking of a warm bath. Only when a sufficient amount of myself had mysteriously vanished did I realize to my terror, there was less of me here. To further add to my shock; I had no idea where that part of me had gone. It just simply ceased to…be.

Small when it first came to my attention; very small to be brutally honest, but the immense importance of such a miniature piece startled me. A tiny cog suddenly vanishing from an incredibly complex machine. A cog rather innocuous on its own, but the very absence of such a tiny piece had in effect rendered the machine as a whole, less of its-self. Try as I might; I could not recall or picture the missing piece, what it looked like, what purpose it served. I wasn’t even sure where it had formally been located. I was utterly unable to recall the space it once occupied with-in the machine. I had lost some of my “muchness”, just as if it had never existed. What I did know for certain was that I felt its absence, the vacuum was small but perceivable. I knew part of me had mysteriously vanished, and in my uncertainty I mourned my friend’s passing. One less brick in my grand structure.

We feel at times, unwitting participants in a rather macabre race. Desperate to preserve that which we believe separates us from “lower” creatures as uniquely human. Who we are as a person if you must. A desperate battle against the  cruelty of age, all the while time mercilessly claws the mortar from the bricks of our memories. As I said, life now demands from us more than it provides.

I am embarrassed to admit; I’ve come to doubt the validity of my memories of late. Some-where amidst the constant rounds of chemotherapy and radiation some have faded, shadows of what they once were. Not that I think them to be mere fantasies, oh no. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I have come to accept them as defense mechanisms formed around the truth. Modified if you will, to lift my mood and improve my self-image. With time they have become legends in my mind, and as with all legends worthy of the telling, require just a small amount of seasoning.

They are now in my not so humble opinion; liken to a fine wine. Age and the fingerprint of years has come to rest upon the container, leaving the glass dull and smudged, the label faded and redolent of age. But the prize, the substance within, that which truly matters has ripened with age, acquired a life of its own. Full of complex notes and impossible to describe in depth of character.

These are memories; not wholly accurate musings one would hear in a court of law. But poems and epochs, legends and fantasies, worthy of being transferred to younger minds yearning to continue. The torch is passed down, the flame must stay alight as it is carried through future generations.

Yes my friend; these are memories, imperfect with-out doubt, yet with-in them they possess a beauty uniquely their own. Gifts from our dusty silver haired selves. Drink them up oh ye of younger years. Drink them up and pass them on, life is ever presently assaulting our ever-aging minds, chipping at our mortar, stealing them from us with ever increasing fervor, never to be remembered again. Pass them on in spoken word or printed page, our legacy, your very future, depends on them.

Gulf Coast Poet

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