“CHRISTMAS” in a CARDBOARD BOX

“Christmas gifts in short supply,” “Shop early to avoid empty shelves,” The black Christmas of 2021.” The headlines go on and on. If a body allowed themselves, all this bad news can really drag a person down, make ’em believe Christmas and all it stands for can be contained, held captive on some random cargo ship floating just off the coast somewhere.

But don’t you think on it, no sir, don’t you think on it one bit. I got some good news for us all. They may be tellin’ us the holidays are being held captive, but they’re wrong! Let me tell you why.

The Owens family are the stars of our little story, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Owen’s and big David from the book snippets. We join them on a very special day, up early, cleaned and pressed, David’s hair combed and oiled, his four sister’s hair carefully brushed and garnished with pretty bows of left over fabric. His Ma had the entire clan ready to go before sun up. The girls, bubbling over with excitement, picked, poked, and giggled at each other, all the while David looked to the Heavens and rolled his eyes. He couldn’t let ’em see his excitement, after all, while his Pa was at work he was the man of the house. This meant someone had to be the voice of reason.

You see friend: before cellular phones and tablets, before designer purses and Nike shoes, before those robot vacuum cleaners and that creepy Alexa lady who talks to you at home even in the most private of situations, before Atari, PlayStation and X-box. There was something more… a simple dog-eared cardboard box, but contained within that humble box, well… contained there was everything Christmas was about, everything Christmas promised and everything Christmas was, and as kids they looked forward to it’s yearly return with as much excitement as Santa Claus, maybe more.

Since it was Christmas basket season, that meant anything was possible, maybe even probable. Most folk have been fortunate enough to have never seen one, and that particular memory, like so many things from our past, seems to be slowly fading into obscurity. But to David and his sisters, all the magic and wonder of the holiday season was waiting for them inside that box.

Oh it’s all there…you just gotta know what to look for, the Christmas story in it’s entirety. From the simple to the sublime, the mundane to the magical, the humble to the most high. And like all good things (I mean really good things), very little, if any, money is required.

David and his sisters didn’t know “poor”, to them it was simply”life” and life needed no special words to quantify it, it simply was, and that was that. But… it was a different time and folks defined “poor” differently than we do now.

There they were, like a momma duck and her babies, all waddlin’ up the narrow road into town. If they were lucky, a neighbor would stop and offer a ride, if not there was plenty to talk about on the five mile hike. All the children could talk about were those boxes and what wonders waited inside. Each shared tales about what they hoped to find within, minds raced and imaginations soared as tales of last years treats and which ones were favorites flew though the cold air.

Before they knew it, the lodge came into to view and they could see the line of folks wrapping around the building like a black snake, all patiently waiting their turn. Now before we go any further we need to get one thing straight friend…this weren’t charity. Around here folk look out for each other, we share the gift as well as the burden. We didn’t need the government, we didn’t need a handout, and we didn’t need some politician deciding what our folk deserved. We had neighbors and friends who cared, and felt the pain of hardship like we all did.

The sights,sounds, and smells in that building were in a kids eyes, beyond words. Boxes packed full of holiday greatness were stacked floor to ceiling. The aroma of chocolate, citrus, cinnamon, and other treats unknown floated about the room before simmering into an aroma that brought goose-bumps to the skin. The roomful of voices and excited clamber mixed just as easily, composing a soothing hymn. This must truly be what Christmas was all about, those children were in Heaven and never wanted to leave.

A booming HO, HO, HO, snapped them to reality. The three girls pulled and tugged at David’s shirt, begging to go see Santa. David shot his ma a pleading glance.

Oh fine, she replied. Take your sister and go see Santa, I got some things to drop of at the tables anyway.

Without waiting on their brother, the girls ran to the short line of children, all waiting to tell the Jolly ol’ elf their most private of wishes. David knew it as soon as he laid eyes on the ol’ boy. The yards of red velvet and white fur trim couldn’t hide the tin toys and whistles dangling just below Santa’s coat. The ivory pipe he held clutched in his teeth could belong to no other, it was ol’ Shag Branch in the flesh. The wonderful ol’ man sat there, his lap full of children. From time to time his head fell back as a thunderous laugh filled the room. Shag was in his element, he loved those children and they loved him in return. Christmas seemed to fit Shag, his well worn stories of travel to far off and exotic lands were replaced with reindeer tales, and elf updates, the intricacies of toy manufacturing, and flight zones. The children (young and old) gathered round him as usual, mouths wide open and eyes star struck as they absorbed the tales like raindrops on dry clay.

Mrs. Owens used the opportunity to finish some business. She placed a large basket on the table under the watchful eyes of the chief and mayor. A loud gasp was heard from both as she laid six fresh baked “cornmeal” pies in a neat line. Quit that she scolded as she swatted away the mayor’s hand. Those are for the raffle, you want a taste then go buy ye’selves a ticket.

Grumbles were heard as the two men turned to go in search of the ticket table.

We’ll be back Mrs. Owens replied Mayor Weaver, yea said the chief, with winning tickets too.

I hope so boys, she answered, I hope so.

To be perfectly honest; each family was to get just one box, but the men behind the tables, well… they knew things, the kinda things only a small town knows. With a wink, a finger to their lips and a quick shush, a box appeared before each of the children. The girls could scarce wrap their arms around the treasure. Once the boxes were held tight against they’re chests, they were quietly scatted outside.

Ma led her little band of ducks to a large sweet-gum tree, there beneath the gnarled branches they examined they’re spoils.

One large frozen roasting hen

Cans of pumpkin, green beans, corn and untold other vegetables

A bag of flour, cornmeal, and sugar

A large bag of tree nuts

A bag of pretty ribbon candy, creme drops, horehound candy, gum drops, and a box of Cracker Jacks

A large poke of oranges and a few grapefruit

But the best lay hidden at the bottom. All four filled their mouths with gum drops and began to dig. I found it yelled the youngest, soon followed by the other three. Four pairs of hands lifted the prize into the air. A brand new pocket New Testament. Still cold from the frozen chicken, leather bound with gold letters on the outside and red letters on the inside. (The red letters are the important ones).

Mrs. Owens let her little ones enjoy their newfound prizes for a few minutes before giving word that it was time to make the way back home. David secured each girl with a their own box before picking up his own. The little band began the journey back home.

The journey home was dominated by tales of Santa and the things he might bring. A thankful grin lay across the face of both David, and his ma. The hope and dreams of the three girls lifted they’re hearts and made the steps lighter.

As the four marched, the wind brought the scent of cinnamon and Liquorice to the nose. The aroma mixed and mingled with the scent of citrus and apples, until finally joining with the smell of cardboard and the cold of the chicken. The end result was nothing short of magical.

We all have special “triggers” in our lives, simple little things such as a TV. show, a special taste, a smell, or familiar tune. Something so small and innocuous that it means nothing to others, but to us, those “little” things have the power to instantly transport us back to simpler times and our childhood, or treasured memory. The smell of a Christmas basket is one of mine, and I’m sure, for David and his three sisters as well.

Remember when I said those boxes contained Christmas? Well…let’s talk about that a-bit shall we?

You may be, (and I pray that you are), unfamiliar with the concept of a “Christmas Basket” and what it meant to so many mountain families, not to mention children. Every year when the leaves began to change, local churches, businesses, friends, neighbors, heck, most of the whole town came together in the spirit of Love and Sacrifice. A humble yet grand effort to gift another with the simple respite from worry.

Food drives would be held, bake sales and raffles. Collection plates circulate in churches ,meeting halls, and even local beer joints. Most everyone gratefully shared what little they had, no avenue was left unchecked in the effort to fill as many boxes as possible.

Do such labors work? Do these humble actions of neighbors have lasting effect. Well…here sits an old man, typing away at his keyboard. As I write this story I smell that box,I feel the cold from the frozen bird against my face as I walk home. I feel the weight as I carry it close to my chest. The smell of citrus, chocolate and cinnamon fill my head and I’m transported back, way back.

Strip away the tinsel, the twinkling lights and greenery. Remove the silver, gold and blown glass. Forget about spending money you don’t have, to buy people you don’t like, things they don’t need.

Whats left?

Just an old cardboard box, much like an old wooden manger, both filled with hope, joy, and promise. The return of which was looked forward to every year at this special time. Remember that pocket New Testament those little ones were so desperate to find too? Oh it was there in that manger as well. Oh not a little book mind you, but nothing less than the word manifest in flesh, the Christ child. A promise made, a promise fulfilled.

Oh I nearly forgot; Remember those pies Mrs. Owens baked? There’s a lesson there as well. In my simple mind I believe God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost is best described as a cornmeal pie cut into three slices. Each separate at the surface,but the middle, the ooey gooey sweet part, is still as one.

Mary had a little Lamb, so very long ago.

Though our sins be as crimson..

The Lamb can wash them white as snow.

My sin debt was paid by that Little Lamb, in that manger long ago.

And now where that Lamb has gone, I shall surely go.

MERRY CHRISTMAS from the Tin Cup Clan. It’s been a wonderful year, God has allowed me to continue sharing these tales with you even though the doctors tell me other wise. We thank each of you for your prayers and support and continue to pray that the Lord bless you and your Loved ones without measure.

So…next time you hear or read of all the evil afoot in this ol’ world. Stop a second and think of Big David and his sisters, a corn meal pie, and a humble little “cardboard box.” Then with a deep breath, smile a bit and smell the citrus. God’s got this, I promise.

Please like an share this story. I’m certain we all know others who need to read it. I don’t get out much anymore so leave a comment or two as well, we certainly enjoy reading them. THE TIN CUP CLAN

Ahab’s real name was Wendall

Ahab…the name carry’s with it a ponderous weight. Scenes of massive wooden ships under full canvas fill our noggins, if we allow ourselves the privilege, we can almost hear the overbearing Captain as he berates the lowly shipmates. With little effort we may go so far as to catch a glimpse of the massive white back as it breaches the ocean’s surface. ” If his chest had been a cannon he would have shot his heart upon it,” the quote rings in our head as a church bell…but.

Yes we’ve all read the book, (you have haven’t you ?)

Pundits and scholars have debated the various morals, lessons or inner guidance one might glean from Captain Ahab for the better part of a hundred and seventy years. But I got one on ’em, that’s right, this Ol’ hillbilly has been blessed with the opportunity to have known Ol’ Ahab in the Christian flesh, (that’s right, in the flesh) but…his real name was a bit on the humbler side…Wendall, (with two L’s), and the whale…well in this story at least, that denizen of the deep, that Leviathan of maritime nightmares will be played by “of all things,” a lowly little possum with the inner stones of a mountain lion.

“What’s that you say? Such a thing cain’t be true, he’s lost his mind. Well… bear with me for a brief while as I introduce you to a fella (and his whale) I don’t think you’re gonna forget either one of ’em anytime soon. Who knows, maybe we can even laugh a bit together.

As I recall, Wendall was an odd duck, as far as ducks go. His pasty white skin clung to his bones like an old wet overcoat. The sight was worsened by a large hooked nose and pitiful excuse for a hairpiece that weren’t foolin’ a soul. He rode an ol’ motorbike where-ever he went, he would cruise main-street, face in the wind, grinnin’ from ear to ear, and that hair piece flopping up and down in the breeze, slappin’ against the front of his helmet. Sittin’ there square betwixed his legs was the scruffiest lookin’ little mutt you ever saw. That animal went everywhere with him and possessed the same ill nature as it’s owner. The whole sight was to much to witness with a straight face.

His physical appearance hid a rather odd defect of character, an explosive temper. Lookin’ back, I’m sure his short fuse was the result of a lifetime filled with constant ribbing and practical jokes, or maybe his hairpiece made his head itch somethin’ terrible. Whatever the reason, he was heels dug in and ready to fight at the drop of a hat,(dog and all). Unfortunately, he usually managed to came out on the short end of most brawls, but I reckon the few he did win kept his spirits up, there’s a lesson there, but this ain’t the story for it. No matter his flaws I counted him as a friend and was glad for it, and a truer friend I never had.

He came by my house one day, excited beyond measure. He jabbered on, hands flailin’ wild in the air, mouth goin’ a mile a minute, dog barkin’ and yappin’, he had bought his first house.

*You just gotta come see it” he bragged. On and on he went until I finally saw things his way and agreed to go see his newly acquired mansion. We jumped into my truck (there was no way I was gonna ride that scooter with him and the dog), and off we went. We rattled down an ol’ gravel road until at last he began slappin’ the dash and pointin’ to an ol’ rusty mailbox. At the end of the mud and gravel sat an ancient dilapidated shotgun house. Poison vines and ivy snaked they’re way up the wood siding, very nearly covering the entire structure, as a matter of fact the sight led me to believe the vines were the sole means of support for the ol’ house. Rusty tin covered the roof, well most of it anyways, the wind had blown a few pieces off leaving weathered grey boards open to the rain.

But it was his and he was proud of it. He hooked his thumbs around the galluses of his liberty’s and drew in a deep breath, “ain’t no kinda man if you don’t own some land” he bragged. I was proud for him too.

We set to work right away, the foundation had fallen away at one corner, the sole source of lighting was a single bulb hanging from the ceiling in each room. There were only five or six functioning electrical outlets in the entire house, and to be honest, I was rather concerned about ’em. The well pump worked depending on it’s mood, which considering it’s foul disposition wasn’t often. None of that phased him, no sir, not one bit. The two of ’em moved in that very first night, it was then and there he discovered someone else called that house a home, and he wasn’t welcome. He wasn’t welcome at all.

Enter stage right…the whale.

I arrived the next mornin’ bright and early, coffee in hand and ready to start the day. But no sign of Wendall. I walked around the porch only to find an ol’ Confederate battle flag nailed over the living room window and bath towels over the rest. I began poundin’ on each of ’em until finally rousin’ him and his dog from the bed. They looked horrible, the both of ’em. He didn’t have his wig on and the dog just looked…well…aggravated.

What in the world happened to you? I asked. The both of you look pitiful.

Both hands covered his face as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and scratched his stubble. He opened his mouth in a wide yawn, I think we got a haint he replied.

I chuckled a bit. You’ve lost your mind. I replied. Let’s git to work.

We got a lot done that day, black and white tiles on the kitchen floor, new counter tops from the local salvage yard. Heck…even that ugly dog caught a couple of rats. (the rats looked better than the dog). Pretty good day, even if I had to listen to him go on and on about the foot-steps on the porch last night, or the strange scratchin’ on the walls. Yep…we got our selves a haint alright he said, a sneaky one at that, and I’m gonna git ‘im. Gonna be him or me said, gonna be him or me.

Well…days went by, we worked on the ol’ house most week ends, Wendall came of the mind that his haint was gettin’ bolder by the night. He was obsessed with this private battle of his. He had convinced himself there could only be one winner, and it was ordained by God almighty that winner was gonna be him (and his dog). Night after night he waited for his ghost, hearing the scratching and foot steps, but never seeing hide nor hair.

I figured some neighborhood kids were messin’ with him or somethin’ of that nature. He didn’t have a workin’ firearm to speak off and I was grateful for that. He did however own a piece of an ol’ shotgun, from a distance it looked deadly enough, but in fact it was absent most of the pieces-parts needed to allow it to fire. I eventually considered the entire situation a joke, but the strain on Wendall and his ugly little dog was becomin’ more evident by the day.

Until finally, it all came to the most comical and extreme of climaxes a body could think of.

I arrived one cold and frosty Fall mornin’, usual coffee in hand, only to be greeted by a horrific and bloody (yes I said bloody) sight. The porch lay covered with broken bits and pieces of sheet-rock. Lumber and plumbing scattered throughout the yard. I panicked, dropped the coffee and burst through the kitchen door expecting to find ol’ Wendall, a victim of some horrendous crime, mangled and bloody on the floor with that ugly ol’ dog.

As I burst through the door I was met by a terrible sight. The new tile floor was charred and black, a strange circle in the center. The cabinet doors were torn from their hinges and partialy burned. It was obvious, someone had attempted to burn the place to the ground. But that wasn’t the worst of it (OH NO), areas of the floor and wall were splattered with blood. I was shook to my marrow bones when I noticed a blood soaked sledge hammer layin’ next to the sink. I just knew my friend was well and truly dead.

Wendall, I yelled. You dead? In a panic, I ran to his bedroom searchin’ for him. WENDALL.

I stuck my head in the dark bedroom to find him, blood stained and sprawled out across the bed. Next to him, watchin’ over his master was the dog, his right eye swollen shut and fur matted with God knows what. My heart fell, and I felt sick to my stomach.

What in hell are you goin’ on about? Wendall growned as he sat his self right.

Man I thought you was dead.

Naw…but he is. Wendall crawled outta bed, picked up his dog and walked past me to the kitchen.

What in the Hell happened in here I asked.

Well…let me tell ye.

He was here again last night, but this time I was ready for ‘im. I heard im’ scurrying across the porch, I figured that ol’ shotgun might be enough to scare im’ off if he weren’t already dead. Me and the dog waited for im’ at the kitchen door, then just at the right moment we jumped out, shotgun ready. It was dark and I couldn’t see nothin’, but the dog did. he came a chargin’ out, growlin’ and snarlin’ and bittin’. I felt somethin’ run ‘tween my legs but I couldn’t see im’. The dog did though, had im’ cornered behind the stack of sheet rock, you should have heard the commotion. I couldn’t let im’ hurt my dog, so I used the gun as a club and started frailin’.

It was blacker than the inside of a cow, but I kept slingin’ in the dark like a wild man. A bit of light came from the open door so I could see a bit. When i looked down I saw him a layin’ there, shakin’ somethin’ pitiful. When I looked closer I saw I was beatin’ the snot outta my own dog. Lord I figured I killed im’, but that ol’ dog is tougher than I am. Bout that time something hissed and ran past me and through the door.

I ran in behind im’, just in time to see im’ run under the sink. I looked and there he was, the biggest possum I ever seen. Sulled up in the corner, he was mad as hell. I broke the stock off the gun when I was out on the porch, so I looked around for somethin’ else, the sledge hammer. I poked and poked at ‘im, but all he did was hiss and bite at the handle, after a few minutes I figured I might try and smoke im’ out. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

So…I fetched the trashcan threw some papers in it and lit a handful of ’em. But the more I poked at that possum the tighter he got. he weren’t even afraid of fire. I looked at the trash can and saw the fire was gettin’ to big, I forgot about them varnish rags we put in it.

While my back was turned a puttin’ out the fire, my dog figured he’d give the possum one more go, it sounded like he was losin’, so I ran over to help him, this time I was swingin’ as hard as I could. It ran through the cabinets to the other corner and that’s where I got my first good lick in. It was hard to see on account of the smoke so I just kept swinging and swingin’ till they was nothin’ to swing at.

I got ‘im bygod, I got ‘im.

I fanned the door back and forth for quite awhile till I got most of the smoke out. That’s when I saw all the blood and possum pieces. Me and the dog was plum tuckered out, so we laid across the bed to rest for awhile. Next thing I knew…you was yellin’ at me.

I stopped him. Man you nearly burned the house down. Tore the cabinets all to pieces, ruined the kitchen floor, almost beat your dog to death, and what for? Nothin’ but a stupid ol’ possum. How’s that make you feel?

He sat there a moment wipin’ on his bloody shirt sleeves. Then he stopped, hunched his shoulders above his head, gave his crippled ol’ dog a scratch and sighed.

Come to think of it…makes me feel a bit like that Ahab feller we read about when we was in school.

I couldn’t argue with that.

So…that’s the end of our story. I told ya when we started, Ahab’s real name was Wendall didn’t I? I don’t reckon you need a big ol’ whale to obsess about. Nope…somethin’ as small as a possum can completely take control, if you let it. Leading’ you to destroy most everything you’ve worked so hard for. Seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

Granny always said,”life’s about moderation,” that goes for everything. To much work, to much play, to much stuff, to much worry. Just give it a think for awhile. How many things have you ever worried about, have actually been as bad as you imagined when they came to pass? Not many I’d wager. All that from a possum, who’da thought it.

Once again, The Tin Cup Clan thanks you for your time, and wish Gods blessings to you and your family. Life is so busy now a days and time so precious we are humbled that you chose to spend some of with us. Do us a kindness, share this with at least one friend, like, comment, we’d love to hear from ya. Till next time…….The Tin Cup Clan

Always Choose The Wing (a revisit)

  (A reflection of Character)

WELL HOWDY FRIENDS. Good news, good news. The Tin Cup Clan’s new digs is almost done. But let me tell you…these ol’ bones feel every nail and hammer blow. Since I’ve been rather short on time of late I’ve been repostin’ some of the older stuff. I figured this might give our newer members a chance to catch up a bit. But that’s about to come to an end!!! This should be the last of the reposts’. But don’t let that keep ya from reading on.

Ya see…many a lesson can be learned from the humblest of items. In the past we’ve discussed pink socks, button jars, DWB’s, and so on. But for now, let’s talk about the lowly chicken wing. So just for a minute or two why don’t you sit down, clear yer head of all the nonsense goin’ on around you. Then let this simple little chicken appendage bounce around in that ol’ noggin’ of your’s.

Never can tell…you might just learn somethin’ before we’re done.

ALWAYS CHOOSE THE WING.

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. Well… not the gizzards, I don’t like ’em, the longer you chew ’em, the bigger they get. 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 those thighs… well 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…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 posses.

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 anyhow, 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 willin’ 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. Yea… that one’s not original either. 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. That little wing is sorta like an outward manifestation of inner humility. (hey, that little comment’s an original, with a big word thrown in for extra measure). 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 passed it on to you. “We need a lot more folks chewin’ on a wing, and far fewer chokin’ on their words.” (That was another original). So, this Saturday go out and grab ye’self a big ol’ bucket of wings, Come Sunday you’ll be sittin’ about that table just drippin’ with humility. But 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.

The Rolling Store

I posted this some time ago, but thought I might share it again for those who missed it.

During my childhood in the hills of East Tennessee, the most popular, though somewhat less dependable method of social interaction, came in the form of an old truck known by all as the “rolling store.” As kids, we looked forward to the weekly visit nearly as much as Santa Claus. Many a childhood memory centers around this wonder of modern technology, and I remember the truck like it was just yesterday.

 It was an old Chevy truck covered in a rich patina of faded blue paint and rust, complete with areas’ worn to rusted metal by years of winter salt and summer mud. I believe every window was cracked, yellowed, or frosted white around the edges by age and the glaring sun.

The front of the truck was dominated by a large white(ish) grill, which from a distance blessed the ol’ truck with a goofy sort of smile. That grill bore the scars of countless chips, dents, and dings from countless miles of gravel and dusty country roads. The grill hung tenaciously to the rusting metal by various odd nuts and bolts, along with bits of twisted wire and bailing twine.

Countless insects: frozen in the midst of their death throws hung suspended in time behind the metal teeth. All manner of moth and butterfly hung there, frozen in time and appearance. A Lepidopterist could hardly have done a finer job.

Every now and then we would find a small unlucky bird, dried by the summer air rushing through the radiator. Of course, in the minds of two young boys this was irresistible, providing countless specimens to play with at a later date. But this could be tricky, the hot air dried the little bodies out in the extreme, and great care had to be taken as not to crumble the body of a lunar moth, cicada, or small finch.

Behind the worn cab was an extremely large white box, corners smashed in from low hanging branches. A heavy roll up door was at the rear of the box and below the door a large deck. This served as a porch for the driver and counter-space or leaning post for the countless patrons. The proprietor walked on a wooden floor worn smooth by time and traffic.

The ancient wood was periodically “cleaned” with motor-oil, then kerosene was used as a preservative. Well-worn pathways were a lighter color and stained from countless spills.

Coat upon coat of white paint covered the wooden shelves that lined the walls. These shelves were well stocked with any number of goods that a rural family might require. Next to the roll-up door sat an antique brass cash register, whenever the drawer would open a bell would ring a crisp clean “ding” that echoed in the old box.

Every Friday we would hear it rattling down the road. Calling women of the household to gather at the end of their drives or, should they live on a dirt road, down to where the chip and tar began. There they would wait patiently, kids in tow, an adult version of waiting on the school bus.

Many women carried all manner of handmade wares or different sorts of homemade foods. All neatly wrapped in brown paper or scraps of cloth, then carefully tied with sisal twine. These items were considered more valuable than paper currency, and were bartered for needed staples such as flour, sugar, lard, and coffee.

Bartering was an all-important and expected method of exchanging goods’; the value of these staples was dependent on quality and the reputation of their creator. Therefore, the makers of truly exceptional commodities soon became well known and respected along the route. One such lady was known to everyone as “Granny Smith.”

“Granny” lived next to us in a large run-down farmhouse. The backyard was full of chickens and outbuildings, all of them in various states of disrepair. The collection included the usual lot a person might expect to find on such a homestead.

Chicken coop, root cellar, spring house, the list goes on. Climbing Rose, Clematis, Wisteria and other climbing flowers covered the sides of these structures so thick that some appear to be the only thing saving the buildings from certain collapse. Thousands of colorful insects filled the air around her house, buzzing and fluttering from flower to flower, blessing the entire yard with an almost surreal and fairytale appearance.

I would escape and pay her a visit any time I had a chance. The rather portly old woman could usually be found in the same apron and bonnet. The fabric with it’s pretty Lilac print no doubt sewn by her own hand. There she sat, on the large front porch in her favorite rocking chair, humming to herself as she broke beans or shelled peas.

If I were extremely lucky, she would be sitting there singing to herself quietly as she churned butter. She pumped the handle in perfect cadence while singing the same old song. “Poor little possum in a pawpaw patch pickin’ up pawpaws puttin’ ’em in his pocket”, over and over. She didn’t have a single tooth in her head, nary a one, this gave the words a warm and comforting dialect.

She usually held a dip of snuff tight in her lip. I swear that woman could pick a gnat off a dog’s butt at ten yards when she spit. Come to think of it, most “granny” women of the day were pretty accurate, years of practice had made them expert marksmen.

I looked forward to taking my turn at the handle and never missed any opportunity to do so. There in the summer heat we would sit, churning butter and singing about possums and paw-paws.  The resulting sweet butter was cool and savory on my tongue, I can almost taste it now as I think back and write these words.

The butter was pressed into antique hand carved wooden molds then chilled in the spring house. Each pound of butter was then wrapped in waxed paper and sat on a shelf in the same spring house to mature and cool, waiting for the rolling store to make its weekly rounds.

Her goods were of particular value and fetched a relatively high price. Folks were certain to ask for them by name, as a result these didn’t last long on the truck.

At each stop, the ladies would step up to the counter, proudly spread out their goods for inspection and the bartering would begin. If cash exchanged hands; the bell on the old register would ring loud and clear.

Credit was routinely extended with a simple handshake and a promise; followed by a note stuck on the wall by a nail. Few even considered breaking they’re word for risk of a bad name. Times were different then.

If a holiday or special event was approaching, items such as buttons, thread, zippers, and fabric were in high demand.

If it had been a particularly good week, meaning my brother and I had found a few soda bottles, we were allowed to trade them in for a couple of “Peanut Butter Cups.” We rarely received any candy, so such an event was not to be taken lightly. To this very day I swear the peanut butter cups were twice the size and far tastier than these “so called” modern versions. (But that’s a story for another time).

With the bartering now finished and the bills paid or charged, usually the latter. It was time for the important stuff to begin, time to gossip, spread the news or catch up. This waited until the very last of course; because everybody knows you don’t mix business with pleasure.

Gossip flew in the summer like fireflies; the news was passed down the line becoming more exaggerated with each telling. Open mouths, “aww shucks,” “you don’t say,” and “oh my Gods” were exclaimed in hushed tones. Finally, after all was said and done, the doors closed, hands were shook and the truck slowly began rattling its way down the old road once again.

Time for the ladies with kids in tow to make their way back to their homes and restock their cupboards. A new list of needs was started, and the wait began anew for the next visit by this long-gone icon of my childhood.

While I wrote this story; I thought I would do a quick search. On the interweb I clicked in rolling store. (Go ahead, try it!) There I found several old rusting hulks, covered over with weeds and vines, their travelling days over. Letters that once proudly proclaimed the proprietor’s name were now faded and barely readable. It’s a sad reminder of our time and I wonder how long it will be until no one is left who remembers the “Rolling store.” But now dear reader; I believe you will, at least for a while.

I would appreciate it if you would take the time to share these stories, maybe even go so far as to follow this page. Oh…and don’t forget to Google “Rolling Stores,” and get a look at these long gone staples of rural life.

The Trouble with Pink Socks

Once again I find myself apologizing; I’ve really let you folks down with the posts (or lack of) lately. Things have been a little hectic around the Tin Cup Clan’s new domicile. So busy in fact, I’ve found myself thinking of little else. That was until today…when for some unbeknownst to me reason, I found myself thinking of “pink socks.”

Wow…I heard the collective sigh loud and clear. But bare with me for a while and let me preach on, it’ll all make perfect sense, I promise.

Now back to this pink socks epiphany. The whole thing began innocently enough on a cool spring morning, on picture perfect New England beach.

The good Lord has blessed me with the honor of calling a great many places in this great country home at one time or another, and I loved calling the new England coast line home for a while.

One of my favorite things to do was get up early in the morning so my wife and I could stop by the beach on the way to work. There we would sit on the rocky coast, enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the lobster boats go out as the sun peeked his head above the horizon.

So…there I was, sitting on my special rock, sipping my insanely over priced coffee, while watching a lone fishing boat as it slowly disappeared into an early morning mist. (Yea, got ya hearin’ that sappy background music right about now don’t I?)

Then suddenly, harshly, and without warning, (cue the needle scratching across that background record.) “Why are you wearing pink socks”?

In that instant I forgot about the sunrise, the fishing boat, the ocean, I forgot it all as I looked down in horror. She was right, some how in the early morning dark I had picked up a pair of her socks and there wasn’t enough time to go back and change. To some guys this wouldn’t be a problem, but to a strapping young buck like my self this was an utter and complete catastrophe.

All I could think about throughout the entire day were those damn girly socks which I was certain were eating away my ankles.

Here comes the lesson. My point is simple, that morning and everything that led up to it is a treasured memory, but everything after the sock statement is gone, but more likely it was never there to begin with. I was focused on those socks. How many firsts did I miss that day? How many once in a life time moments. Was there a special cloud I missed? Perhaps some one needed help and I didn’t notice? I could go on and on.

My point is…sometimes we all have “pink sock” days. Oh they may seem harmless at first, the guy that cut us off on the freeway, that snob that cut the line at the store, but what they steal from us, well…that’s something we’ll never know. We may spend the entire day stewing over ’em, and never take time to notice the fishing boat, or the sun set on the way home. We can never measure what those little burrs cost us, but we know the loss is there. We feel it some how, not the weight but the absence of weight, the “muchness” of it all. Deep down we may feel a little… less some how. Life gives us gifts daily, but even gifts come at a price. That price is our attention, and our gratitude for the small things. After all…those are the things we remember. All this from a pair of pink socks.

Friends… most times it’s not the big things that derail us. Oft times it’s the smallest, and that small size makes them truly deadly. Don’t let ’em do that. Forget about that guy on the freeway, stop thinking about the line cutter at the store. After all, they certainly ain’t thinking about you. So quit letting people or things live rent free in your head, and remember…watch the boats, soak in the sun rise, enjoy the coffee, and always, and I do mean always check those socks before you put ’em on.

As always The Tin Cup Clan thanks you for your valuable time. We’re honored that you chose to spend a bit of with us. If you liked it, make our day. Like and share (especially share.) Leave a comment, we sure do love the comments.

God Bless…..Thank You…The Tin Cup Clan

Did Ye’ wipe Ye” Feet ‘fore Ye’ Got in the Bed?

It’s been a while since the last post, but I got a good reason I promise. You see, a few years ago the little Mrs. and myself moved off to the beach for a while. Since then we’ve been blessed with no less than seven grand-babies. These damnable treatments combined with the travel distance made moving back to our beloved mountains a “no-brainer.”

We bought ourselves a little farmhouse nestled in the hills of north east Tennessee. I love it here, I’m close to the kids and the blessing of a post card view greets me around every corner. Praise the Good Lord I’m finally home. But Lordy mercy this place needs work, not just a little work naw sir. I’m talkin’ sittin’ on the pot whilst starin’ at the floor joists kinda work. For a far more detailed explanation of this; please refer to the story about the “Outhouse,” just search back a little you can find it. Yea… that’s the one, but a more “grown up” version.

We have no choice but to live in our little construction zone. We keep telling ourselves we can do this and encourage ourselves up by remembering “This momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory.” Kinda paraphrased the Good Lord there, but I’m sure he won’t mind, considerin’ our givin’ situation.

I was gettin’ ready for a well deserved night’s sleep when the little woman ask me a question. It was the same question she’s been asking almost every night since she was lucky enough to marry me. Only this time it made me stop and think a bit.

“Did ye wipe ye feet fore ye got into bed ?

Now I’m certain I’m not the only one what’s grown up hearin’ this same late night question right before shovin’ those freezin’ tootsies ‘neath the quilt.

There’s a logical reason behind it you see. The simple act of walkin’ to the bedroom (no matter how clean your floor may be), attracts any and all manner of microscopic pieces of flotsam and jetsam. It seems dust bunnies wait for that very instant you walk by with nothing but a good slumber on your mind. Like Ninjas’ they attach themselves to the bottoms of your feet. Then by some miracle, seem grow to five hundred million times their original size once they make it under those covers. Once again…at night

Then…it hit this ol’ noggin of mine, (Are you ready? Here’s where it get philisophical).

I figure the same rules apply to Life. Think about it for a bit, really think about it. As we walk through this grand scheme we call life, we cain’t help but get things stuck to the bottoms of our feet. Oh sure…as the day goes on we don’t give ’em a second thought, a harsh word to that certain stranger, a cold shoulder when a loved one needs our attention. A missed “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome.” We’re just to busy right now. Sound familiar? Things that simply happen during the normal passin’ of the day. Stuff to small to matter. Right?

These things stick to us, alone they’re small, undetectable, nothing really. But they matter, they accumulate, they have weight and sooner or later they begin to burden our steps. Funny thing, the burden builds so slowly we don’t recognise the weight. Without knowin’ we begin carryin’ the ponderous heft of a life time of microscopic schmutz.

But when we sleep… when we shove those toes under the sheets, those burdens begin to feel like broken glass to our bare “feet.” Minds race, thoughts scream at us, we wake in the morning feelin’ like we’ve never slept at all. To often…folks don’t know why they’re so uncomfortable, so burdened when they turn in for the night.

Won’t you do me a favor when you sit on the edge of your bed tonight?

Don’t forget to wipe your feet before gettin’ in the bed. Then stop for a second…take a deep breath, and think about your day. Then lower your head, close your eyes and wipe those “other feet” as well. You may be surprised at what’s stuck there, maybe even a little embarrassed. But boy howdy you’re sure gonna sleep better, I promise. Never know…you might wake up in the mornin’ and feel rested for the first time in ages.

Just thought I’d share this with you folks. I’m sure it ain’t gonna change any lives, or bring about world peace. But hey…it might help. Just a thought from the Tin Cup boys.

Once again as always; The Tin Cup Clan thanks you for spendin’ a bit of your time with us. Times as they are, we’re sure you have more important things to be doin’ and we’re humbled that you choose to spend some of it with us.

Don’t forget to hit a few buttons below, share this with a friend or two, maybe even go so far as to leave a comment. Thank You and God Bless.

Do You Have a “Loser’s Limp?”

I reckon I need to begin with an apology. Things have been a bit busy of late and my posts have suffered. I find myself answering E-mails inquiring if I am still among the living. Well believe it or not, I’m still kicking. But I fear there may be one or two out there that may view such news as depressing to say the least.

Of late we have been talking about the word “normal’ and how it applies to each of the boy’s families. Personally I don’t care for the word, boiled down to it’s simplest meaning it’s little more than a unit of measure, and a poor one at that. Relative in it’s definition and subject to the opinions of the person holding the measuring tape.

This week we visit Mikey and his family. Remember when I talked about how Chucky’s family circled the wagons when hard times hit? Well…Mikey wasn’t so fortunate.

Excerpt : Chapter (1)

It was cold in the house, not freezing cold, just cold enough to make a person miserable. The kind of cold that seeps into your bones like wet mold, making every joint painful and slow to move.

The kerosene furnace had once again died during the night. Seems like the only time the ol’ girl decides to give up the ghost is when she can cause the most discomfort. Mom had the oven door open in a desperate effort to get some manner of heat into the kitchen. It didn’t do a lot of good really, the trailer had so many air leaks we might as well be camping in the great outdoors.

But as usual, there we stood; holding our hands out in front of the open oven door, pretending the glowing coils were a campfire. The two of us rubbed our hands together and slapped our arms shaking off the chill. If it was really cold, she would pull a chair to the front of the oven, there she would sit, waving heat into the room with a piece of cardboard. Once her arms began to ache, we would take turns.

I’ll work on the ol’ girl when I get outta school I said.

Though young, she looked worn and battle weary. A hard life had carved deep furrows into her worried face, and the elegant brown hair of youth was now polluted with streaks of weathered grey.

“Do we have any kerosene left” she asked.

Yea. I think there’s another five gallons or so out back I replied.

I was used to working on the ol’ girl. Heck, I’ve had her apart about a million times. I knew every nut, every bolt, and every mood swing. Yep, we kinda got a love hate relationship that stove and me. I hate to work on her, but I swear she loves the attention.

 But enough of that, we had a schedule to keep. Missing the bus weren’t an option, not that we couldn’t walk to school naw sir. Missing that bus meant I’d end up missing out on school breakfast, and that was something I just couldn’t allow.

You see…Mikey’s normal is him and his mother, the wagons didn’t circle for them. When times got tough, his dad left. I don’t discuss the matter much in the books, he’s gone simple as that. This was a time before government checks, before safety nets and federal programs. School “free lunch” program meant taking your turn working in the lunch room washing dishes. Oft times, needed groceries were bought with a signature in the store ledger. and more than once, the electric bill was mysteriously paid by persons unknown. That’s Mikey’s “normal.”

I’m not Mikey, but he and I are a lot more alike than we are different. I remember those times, I remember mom coming home late at night so tired she couldn’t eat. I remember no heat in the winter, and my sisters sleeping in the living room floor while we waved heat from an open oven. And I remember Christmas baskets, and the smell of apples, oranges, candy and spices as I held the box tightly to my chest. This was our normal.

I once read about something called a “loser’s limp.” I don’t remember where, but I believe it fits today more than ever. Whenever a ballplayer loses the ball, flubs a play, or strikes out, watch him as he walks off the field. Most of the time you will notice a limp, slight yes but a limp just the same.(Go ahead, look for it next time). I’ve heard folks call it a physical manifestation of failure, others call it a plea for sympathy. I’m just gonna let you ponder it and make up your own mind.

You see…we have choices in life. We can walk around with a “loser’s limp,” blaming our childhood, our circumstances, our whatever. It’s not my fault, they made me this way. Or…we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and walk off the field with our head held high, damn the limp. We can choose to show our scars, they tell a story. We can choose to remember the time the electric bill was paid by that unknown someone. Then, if we are blessed with the means, pay it forward. Then sit back and remember the smell of that Christmas basket.

So dear reader…I reckon Mikey’s “normal” is my “normal” after all. My mother was both parents and I think she did a fine job. She’s a proud Appalachian lady and she taught us to work with what the good Lord blessed us with. She taught us the value of hard work and humility (a trait in short supply today). From time to time I find myself limping, sometimes it just happens. Sometimes I have to remember sitting in front of that stove to snap out of it. I am proud of my “normal,” what’s yours…think about that for a while, after all, there is no right or wrong one.

I’m not sure what the next post will be about, I think I’m in the mood for a story, a funny one. I got one about pink socks, yea…maybe pink socks.

As usual dear reader, I’m gonna close with a heart felt Thank You from the Tin Cup Clan. I know you have more important things to do and we’re honored you chose to spend some of your time with us. Please remember to hit a few buttons and share or like…maybe even tell us your thoughts. There is also a Tin Cup Clan FB page stop by for a visit and be sure and like that as well. God Bless.

“Stumbling Blocks” or “Stepping Stones”

As I write these stories my fervent hope would be; they become as real to you as they are to me. I want you to know the boys,see they’re home town when you close your eyes, even feel what they feel. That statement may seem a bit “campy” but please dear reader, do me the honor of hearing me out. So far we have visited the home of “big” David, a warm quintessential mountain home. Complete with a loving Christian ma’ and pa’, brothers and sisters. The kind of family that may come to mind when you dream of the perfect family. David’s reflects his home, slow and deliberate in his actions and thoughts, and mindful of his reputation.

Then we looked at Stick’s family, hard working ma’ and pa’. His pa’ works a dangerous job seven days a week, making sure the ends meet. His ma’ running the home as efficiently as a major corporation, all the while keeping those ends tied. Each has a place and each has a responsibility. Little time is left for worship, work has replaced the church as the center pin and character is measured by the strength of one’s back. Stick is the product of this “normal,” strong in his opinion, always quick with a joke and lives by the motto “if you ain’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”

But now we look at Chucky. Life (as it often does) has not been so kind to them. His father worked at the local Mill since he was a boy, just as his father and his father before him. But times in mid-century Appalachia are hard and it’s left it’s mark on them, perhaps harder than any other family in the area. Without warning the Mill cut back, Chucky’s pa’ prayed that seniority would spare him from the chopping block but that wasn’t the case. Before he knew it, he was out of work and the family home was lost. I think many of us can relate to this.

Soon they found themselves dependent on friends, and blessed beyond measure with a small town. You see…folks around here help each other, lift each other up so to speak. When help is offered, declining it was seen as “insult,” and when you recovered, not returning the favor and helping another family was beyond consideration.

During such a crisis families have two choices. Circle the wagons and fight, (or as often is the case), split and go separate ways, leaving yet another family shattered and lost in time.

Fortunately, (I prefer to think by God’s grace), they circled the wagons and trusted that help was on the way. I’m not saying it was easy mind you, far from it. Some times the best you can do is dig your heels in and weather the storm…and the storm came for them dear reader, it came in the worst way.

Excerpt : Chapter : (1) The Unlikeliest of Hero’s

Chucky’s dad works the belt and washer, just as dirty, if not more, but maybe just a little safer.

The pay’s not near what the hole pays, but he’s lucky to get it. He used to work at the mill, but when they cut back, he was one of the first to get the axe. Big David’s dad pulled some strings and got him on at the Blue Diamond mine. He ain’t been there to long so he’s still playing catch up as far as money goes.

Excerpt : Chapter (6) “It ain’t Much but It’s Home”

“Chucky’s place is about a mile down the road. He don’t like us coming by his place much. We all figure it’s because he’s kinda embarrassed by it. It’s been tough for him, his place ain’t much really. His Pa lost their house to the bank when he lost his job at the plant. No warning or nothing, just went in one day and found a piece of paper with his time-card. Right now they’re rebuilding, they all live in a Shasta camper with a room built onto the side.

The room’s not very fancy, just boards and tar-paper topped off with a rusted metal roof. Just stuff his dad could scavenge up I spose. He ain’t never let any of us inside yet, we don’t say nothing about it. Out of proper respect I reckon.”

So…this is Chucky’s “normal.” His family was (blessed) in a strange way. Often you got to lose everything, before you discover you’ve had everything all along. Family, friends, community, and all the gooey stuff that comes along with it. Now…dear reader you know Chucky. Is this “your” normal? If so, look around you, you may find things aren’t so bad after all.

Next time, we visit Mikey’s family. I’m afraid the wagons didn’t circle this time. How does a single parent raise a young boy in times such as these? Well…we’ll talk about that on our next post.

Once again The Tin Cup Clan would like to thank you for stopping by, and we are honored that your choose to spend just a bit of your time with us. As always God Bless and please hit a few buttons or share with someone that may need to stop for a while and read.

Sincerely : The Tin Cup Clan

The Troublesome Red Head and his Family

David Byrge; Better known as “Stick” by most. We’re gonna look at his family next, what forces came together too forge such a personality. As parents, I believe we often forget that our kids are (for lack of a better comparison), tape recorders of a sort. They spend their young lives constantly recording anything and everything around them. Parents and family are the main characters though friends and daily acquaintances play a major role. But the family, that’s where you find the biggest influence. At some point (no one truly knows when), life switches them from “record” to “play.” When the switch happens, that’s it, very little can be done.

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

The person of “Stick” and his family are in most respects, the complete polar opposite of David and his family. His proclivity for dirty jokes, loud outgoing personality, and comic behavior seem to simply be, well…(the recorder switched to play). But there’s a good heart there, a loyal heart, and a friends heart. He’s for good or bad, the product of his environment, the life of the party, “normal” just like the rest of us.

“Stick’s” Pa drives a coal truck, it’s a dangerous job, as kids we saw those guys as fighter pilots. The loud sound of “Jake brakes” echoing through the hills and hollers, sending animals running for shelter and leaves falling from the trees. Everyone in town knew, a truck was coming off the mountain.

Excerpt : Chapter 1 The unlikeliest of hero’s

Stick’s ol’ man drives a coal truck.
Takes a special kind of stupid to climb on top of sixty thousand pounds,
then try to control the beast as it barrels down steep mountain roads and sharp as a razor switchbacks. It takes years to learn how to operate and control one of those things, sorta like hillbilly bull ridin’ but twice as dangerous. They’s been quite a few lose their lives on those mountain roads. Once the truck leaves the top of that mountain she takes on a life of her own.

If she gets loose on the way down you got two choices, step out on the tanks and look for some soft dirt before jumping off. Or try to save your rig by holdin’ on and ridin’ it out, prayin’ you’ll find a soft shallow ditch before she gets too fast. Either way they’s a good chance of dyin’, simple as that.

The secret is pickin’ the right gear at the top and leaving it there. Once you try to knock her outta gear and shift down, the brakes are gonna get hot and she’s gone for sure. If she goes over the edge, the ground’s to steep to get her back up out of the holler. A man’s entire life’s work, doomed to lay where she fell, dead to the world. The mountain side is littered with dead trucks, overgrown with weeds and rusting away. The woods are quick to claim the wrecks, Kudzu vine covers them with a green quilt, right where they landed.

We go up there a lot, scrappin’ for parts, playin’ on em, and gatherin’ spilled coal. We’d all get a beatin’ if we got caught, we’ve been told a bunch of times how dangerous it was, but nobody’s been hurt yet.

Death is always hanging about in coal country. A constant companion for most. For the most part we’ve come to accept it, learned to live with it. Most folk deal with it by pretending it ain’t there. “The Lord calls and it’s my time,” they’ll say. Resigned to a “preordained time clock” a life with the finish line known only by the Lord himself.

Others allow it to follow them around through their entire life. “Ol scratch”hangs over em like a spirit that lives in the hills and hollers. They’re easy to spot, those folk. They carry a heavy appearance, like they’re never really happy. Just kinda going through life, waiting for him, looking for him, almost dead already.

“Stick” inherited his family’s “Devil may care” attitude, and it keeps him in quiet a bit of trouble. The next excerpt is a prime example.

Excerpt: Chapter 3 “Stick’s big mouth and Mark’s big plan.”

This morning I reckon ol’ Stick was in an unusually good mood. When his
name was called, a sharp “Yo” rattles through the room. A look back reveals
Stick standing at attention, eyes focused straight ahead. A sharp military
salute causes a quite snicker to pass through the room, and a smile to come
across every-body’s face…including Burton’s. Stick, not being one to turn
down attention, reclines back in his seat with an obvious look of satisfaction.
The three of us had a hunch ol’ Stick was gonna pay for that one.

Before we start, I need all you cats to pass last night’s homework to the front of the room. A loud groan followed by the sound of shuffling paper fills the class. Suddenly a loud “Daing-it” pierces the shuffle.

Stick didn’t do his homework again.

Burton looked up. Again? He barked.
We go through this at least once a week. What do I need to do Byrge; call your ol’ man or what?
“Good luck with that shit” came the reply.
The room is suddenly filled with a collective gasp.
The three of us sat there, mouths open in dis-belief. Holy crap! He didn’t?
Stick gave a look about the room, pleased with himself for the comment.
Dave leaned over towards me and whispered.
“He’s gonna git it now fer sure. Burton cain’t let a challenge like that go
without answer.”

You see? This is Stick’s “normal.”

Bold and brassy, living by the mantra,”If you ain’t living on the edge, you’re taking up to much room.” It’s a far cry from David’s family, and that’s OK.

Do you see yourself in the skinny red-head and his family? Well…congratulations, that your “normal.” If not…stick around till next time when we visit Chucky and his family. Times are a little tougher for them as his Pa tries to rebuild after the plant cut back.

When something like that happens to a family, only two things can happen. They’re either gonna close ranks and support each other, or they’re gonna split and go separate ways. The next post will be an important one. I think all of us will find a bit of ourselves in Chucky’s home life.

Well…that’s about it for now. Thank you friends, for spending a little time with the Tin Cup Clan. Like I always say, I’m sure you got better things to do, and we’re humbled that you’re here. Go ahead…leave a comment or hit a button or two, we could sure use the support.

Till next time…God Bless

Is there really a “Normal” family?

As promised, here is the first in our visits with the boy’s families. I thought big David would be a good place to start since his family serves as “home base” for our boys. As a child I knew a big David, and his family was very similar to the David in the books, and yes, I envied him quiet a bit. They didn’t have money, didn’t live in a fine home, didn’t drive new cars, or go on vacations, but they had each other and that was enough.

Those things don’t make a family, and most certainly don’t make a happy family. My granny would say, “blessed be nothing, no trouble at all” and “better a peaceful penny than a stricken dollar.” I think you’re gonna find this true with all the boys, but by the end of the book, one of them will have to learn this the hard way.

Do you see your family in big David’s? Great, then that’s your normal, soak it up, enjoy it as you would sunshine on a summer day. If not… well hang around for Stick’s family, maybe you just might see yourself in them. They’re a bit different than David’s, after all…there is no universal “normal,” each one is custom made. What matters is what we do with it.

Excerpt; Chapter 6 “It ain’t much but it’s home”

The next stop the bus makes is big David’s. He lives at the end of a long steep dirt road in a small timber house built by his Pa.

Locals know the hill as Owen’s ridge. His family has lived up there for generations. He shares that little house with a whole passel of brothers and sisters. I think there may be as many as ten of ’em but I cain’t swear to it. I reckon the whole bunch get along just fine.

No matter the weather, the yard is always full of bare footed kids of all ages. I don’t think a man could sling a dead cat without knocking over at least a couple of ’em. All of ’em laughing and yelling, running and fighting, screaming and crying. There’s an odd sense of joy in that house. Joy that’s seldom found in other households. Joy that with a bit of embarrassment I have to admit; I’m a great deal jealous of.

David’s ma sells some of the finest butter, buttermilk and bacon on the planet. That’s where ma gets most of our eggs. The ol’ boy’s dad’s pretty cool too. When he’s not in the hole chasing coal, he’s out there playing right along with his kids. Laughing and running, playing and screaming. It pains me a great deal to watch them, I cain’t help but wonder what my life would be like if my pa were still around. As I watch ’em I think about that a lot.

Excerpt: Chapter 28 “The worst lie I ever told.”

I was the first there. When David opened the door; puppies came rushing out; yappin’ and  jumping all over me.

They ain’t gonna bite friend; they’s just gittin’ to know ye is all. Come on in and make ye self at home. I walked through the door and into utter bedlam.

It was a big living room by any standard. A long well-worn couch sat in front of a large picture window. Clear plastic was stretched over the windows; sealing out the cold. Home-made curtains with pretty flowers hung gracefully; framing the glass like a picture frame.

Next to the couch sat a small simple table. The only thing on it was a large family bible. It was clear that it had been passed down through countless generations. The cover was tattered around the corners from use; while loose leaves of dog-eared paper covered with all manner of dates and notes poked from the sides. A faded and  frayed crimson ribbon was laced through the pages and served as a book-mark.

Standing with great prominence was the woodstove. A huge “Warm-Morning” sat on the brick hearth. A tall pile of split wood stacked neatly to each side. The entire house smelled of burnt hickory and oak; no wonder big David smelled the way he did. The smell of the wood combined with the intense heat of the stove soaked into my bones; making me sleepy and comfortable.

They was kids from floor to ceiling, all of em running and jumping, laughing and playing. It didn’t seem to faze his ma, not one bit. She came over, drying her hands on her floral apron before wrapping me in her arms with a big hug.

How ye doin’ young man? We’ve just finished supper, but I’ll heat ye up somethin’ if yer hungry.

No thanks ma’am, I eat before I left the house. Ma says it’s nobody else’s job to feed this bottomless pit but her. But if you don’t mind, I sure would like to call her and let her know I’m OK.

Phones right over there. Make ye self at home. David said his friends was comin’ by fer a visit. He’s sure been excited about it. Her comment made my conscience bother me a bit; causing the pangs in my belly to start up again.

I called ma to let her know I was there and found myself a seat on the couch (between two puppies). It was soft as a feather bed and I sank down into it as I sat. I just…sat there for a spell; enjoying the heat, the serenity, and the aroma of the wood while letting the worries just melt away.

I understood why David acted so. Even with all the noise and commotion I felt at ease; at home even. His ma had the same easy grin as he did, and the same easy nature. His brothers and sisters climbed on him like he was a set of monkey bars; and he seemed to love it as much as they did.

It seemed all too soon, but a knock came at the door; dragging me back to reality.

David stood up, looks like that’ll be the fellers. The dogs exploded though the door the second he opened it.

I heard a ruckus on the front porch. Good God we’re bein’ attacked by a pack of rabid lassies. Git down dogs I ain’t got no hot-dogs in my pockets.

Chuckie’s panicked voice was unmistakable. The two of em, Chucky and Stick tumbled into the living room in a pile; puppies nipping at their britches, and licking the boy’s faces.

Big David was grinning from ear to ear, even showing some teeth. Aw… They’s just gittin’ to know ye is all, ain’t no use in gittin’ ye drawers in a bunch.

I gotta have em in a bunch cried Stick, if I didn’t those hounds would pull em right off me.

Chucky was already standing in front of the stove, his backside turned to it while he rubbed his tail.

Ain’t nothin’ like a hot fire, my tail is soaked to the bone. Stick kept runnin’ me through mud holes the whole way here.

What? I didn’t do no such thing. Just cause you cain’t ride don’t mean you can blame everybody else.

I interrupted they’re little quarrel. That’s enough guys, yun’z gotta call yer folks so’s we can be on our way. We’re burnin’ daylight.

David looked worried. You sure you wanna do this friend? I mean, they ain’t no shame in not goin’. Heck, I’d wager ol’ Mark ain’t even gonna show up.

I’ve gone too far to back out now. Side’s, if he does show and we ain’t there, I’d get a poundin’ fer sure.

What ’che gonna tell my ma? He asked.

Oh… I ain’t thought of that. I got up and went to the kitchen.

David’s ma was sitting at the table; checking a pile of soup beans before she put em in water.

Excuse me Ma’am.

Stick forgot a couple things at his house; we’re gonna run down and git em if that’s OK with you. We’ll be back shortly.

OK she replied (with out looking up from those beans), but you boys be careful. Ya hear?

I could tell she weren’t used to being lied to. She never batted an eye at my excuse. As I turned and walked back to the guys; I felt all kinds of dirty and those pangs were back in my stomach.

Light was beginning to fade as we walked out on the front porch.

As always Thank You for choosing to spend just a little of your time with The Tin Cup Clan. I know there are a lot of other things you could be doing. A like or a share would be greatly appreciated, so go a head and make my day. Until next time…

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