Friday, March 24, 2017

No Hugging

The middle child, an incredibly tall boy, would have fit right in on Seinfeld. I have to demand hugs from him, making him square up to me and squeeze. He almost hurts me now when he does, but it's worth it.

Last night, I cooked chicken on the grill. It was delicious and there were no complaints from any of the three, which is a rarity. I cook a lot of chicken and everyone is apparently sick of it but for me.

In the middle of the meal, middle jumped up and ran across the room with a terrified look on his face His hands went to his throat in the international symbol for "I'm choking on your cursed chicken, Dad!" I stood up, reviewing the Heimlich maneuver in my head while speaking to him calmly in an attempt to ease his panic. I saw that he was breathing, so I put my hand on his shoulder and looked into his eyes. "You're breathing, buddy. Everything is going to be OK."

"I've got a bone in my throat." I resisted the urge to tell him it was no wonder with the wolfing of food he and his older brother do. Instead, I led him to the kitchen and pulled a piece of bread off the loaf.

"Here. Chew this well and swallow."


"It'll push the bone down." It's a trick I learned from my Mom as a child. We ate a lot of whole, fried fish and bones in the throat were a common occurrence. He took the bread and chewed it carefully before swallowing. Within seconds, his face lit up and he grabbed me. It was the biggest hug he has ever given me, by far.

"Thank you, Dad."

I didn't reply. I just hugged him back.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Just a Pillow

I receive an e-mail everyday from the 4th grade teacher. She lays out the day the students had and previews upcoming events. She does this every single day. It's like a blog. Well, like blogs used to be: when people wrote on them every single day.

It has been over five years since I wrote a blog post. I have written part of a book (or two) and probably 300 short stories since then. Five years ago, the youngest had not started kindergarten and it felt as though it was going to take forever to get her there. Now, she is tall, wears glasses and cool boots, talks about Undertale and wants to become a veterinarian.

In the class e-mail today, Mrs. C informed the parents the children have earned a treat due to their  exemplary fourth-gradeiness. They want to be allowed to bring a stuffed animal and a pillow to school for reading time. My girl set hers aside this morning before school in anticipation of taking it tomorrow. My tall, strong, big-mouthed, independent girl wants to take her tiger and pillow to school.

It has taken a million forevers to get to this blink in time, where she is frozen in my mind as still my little girl, snuggling down on her pillow and reading with her tiger beside her. It is just a pillow, but she is not just any little girl.

**Edit**She was almost late for the bus today as she could not stuff the pillow she wanted to take into her bag. She asked if she could take on e of the smaller ones from the couch and my initial response was, "We don't have time." Luckily, I paused and remembered my vow from many years ago that I would always say "yes" when she asked to ride in the spaceship grocery cart because every kid should be able to ride in the spaceship. So, I picked a pillow and stuffed it in the bag for her and we made the bus stop with seconds to spare.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Box of Valentines

On her wedding day, she took her father to breakfast at his favorite restaurant. They sat at his usual table where he could watch his breakfast friends come and go and ordered coffee.

“Daddy,” she started.

“Uh oh. You only call me Daddy when you want something these days,” he said with a smile.

Her eyes crinkled as she grinned and looked down before continuing, “No, I want to tell you something. Do you remember giving me a box of paper hearts on Valentine’s Day in kindergarten?” He nodded. “You told me to give them to all the people in my life I loved, but to always keep one in there for myself and never let that one go.”

“I remember.”

“I gave one to Davey Lucas that day. He took it and ran to the other side of the playground. I cried to Mom all afternoon after she picked me up about how nobody would ever love me.”

“You did have a flair for the dramatic back then.”

“Some say I still do,” she said. “I didn’t give another one out until third grade to a little boy who had the softest, brownest eyes I have ever seen. He took it and carried it in his math book the rest of the year. His family moved away over the summer and now, I can’t even remember his name.”

“It was Jefferson Hallman,” he said quickly.

‘I guess you were paying attention.”

“More than you will know. One day, you’ll understand.”

“In fourth and fifth grade, I had my first little boyfriend, Murphy Davis. You called him Murph the Smurf because he was so short.”

“He got tall though didn’t he? Made all-state in basketball as a senior.”

“Yes, he did. I gave him three in fifth grade. I think I even wrote my name on one with Davis as my last name. He was a little too young to be freaked out about that.

 I became free with those hearts in Middle School. I gave one to Steve Jones every year anonymously. I gave one to Layne Harris in sixth grade, one each to Bobby George and Raymond Day in seventh, and another one to Layne in eighth.”

“How many were in that box?”

“Twenty-five and I gave out thirteen by the time I was thirteen. I only gave out four in high school. In ninth grade, I mailed one to Rob Thomas of a band named Matchbox Twenty.”

“I know who he is. I didn’t stop listening to music with Led Zeppelin you know.”

She smiled again and continued, “I gave two to Steve when we were actually dating in tenth and eleventh grade. In twelfth, I gave one to my Prom date, Toby Carey. I didn’t really like him at the time, but he was so sweet in asking me, and tried so hard to make it a special night. He got his brother to buy a bottle of champagne and we drank a few sips of it in the driveway when he dropped me off. It wasn’t what we expected and neither of us finished our glass, though we both pretended to be sophisticated and like it. He was so freaked out about drinking it, he pushed his car down the street and slept in it because he thought those few sips might make him too drunk to drive.”

“Sounds like a responsible, if slightly obsessive young man to me. I knew I didn’t hate him for a reason.”

“You never hated any of my boyfriends, Daddy.”

“Only because you picked good ones, sweet pea.”

“Well, I didn’t always do that in college. I dated that jerk as a freshman and ended up giving him two hearts, one on Valentines and one on the night we . . .” she paused for a few beats.

“Never mind,” he said.

She blushed a bit, remembering that awkward encounter and aftermath. “Marcus got one each in sophomore and junior year and he deserved them. He was a really nice guy. I thought I was going to marry him and we even talked about it. The summer before Senior year, he went on a summer program and fell in love with a job and another woman. That was the first time I think my heart broke. I called you and we talked for two hours. When I woke up in the morning, you were in the parking lot at the dorm and took me to breakfast.”

“I hate Marcus a little bit for that. That was a five hour drive.”

“You shouldn’t. He’s happy and has beautiful children and a wonderful Wife. They’ll be there today. Plus, you’ll drive five hours for good BBQ.”

“I won’t punch him them. “

“I think all my boyfriends were a little afraid you would punch them. You had a way of looking and speaking to them that kept them in line.”

“Just doing my job. How many hearts are we up to now?”

“Twenty-one, and I guarded those last four. In fact, I’ve only given out one in the last five years to Susan’s little boy when he had to go into the hospital. I always knew I was going to keep that last heart for me because you taught me that. I know that if I don’t love myself, no one else ever will be able to.

“Well, you are easy to love.”

“Well thanks,” she said shyly, “but, you also showed me how to be honest with myself. I saw how you handled the things you went through with life. I wonder if I will be able to be as graceful and honest with myself as you were.”

“I don’t know which Daddy you were watching. I’ve had a lot of struggles and fought myself a good bit over the years.”

“Oh, I’m sure, but you seemed to always have time to spend with us and to not let outside things affect how you dealt with us. That’s what I’ve learned from you most of all; When you care for your family, all other issues pale in importance.”

He sat silently for a moment. His eyes glistened as he cleared his throat. “You will find out what is important. You will think you know, and then you will have children. You will think you know then. Then one day, one will get in trouble and you’ll have to face the reality that they aren’t the perfect beings they looked like when they came out. But then, you'll realize you love them even more and how much more important it is for you to love them even as they grow up and move away from you. Hopefully, one day, you’ll get taken to breakfast by your son or daughter and they’ll give you the best present you’ve had since the day they were born. You were a gift to me and your Mother. We treated you the best we knew how. I would like to say it’s what caused you to turn into the lady you are today, but, the truth is, you made yourself into this. We helped, but you got to this point and I could not be prouder of you.”

It was her turn to stifle a tear. It worked for a moment. “Daddy, I am going to give Thomas a heart today after the wedding. I hope he holds onto it forever. I am going to keep the last two in the box and never give them away.”

“You should give one to your first child. You do plan on having kids don’t you?”

“I am sure we will one day, but that last heart is for you. Every time I look in there, I will be reminded of what you said when I was five years old and how you taught me all these years.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small package. “I want you to take these and give them out. You can give them to your grandkids if you want.”

She slid a box across the table. “25 Valentine Hearts,” it read. The wrapper was open and he pulled out the stack. On top, the first one had been written on, “My heart will always belong to you. Thank you for helping make it big enough to share. Love Forever.  Your Daughter.”

He reached for his coffee, but didn’t take a drink. Finally, he looked up and said, “Thomas is one lucky SOB.”

She smiled and drank from her cup.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cue the Montage

This is the part of our film where the protagonist is supposed to look into the mirror, see the awful reflection, shave, put on a tie and get down to business. I have been in four months of absolute hell. Be right back, I'm going to go look in the mirror.

Monday, October 03, 2011


You know what makes me laugh? A squirrel falling out of a tree. I mean really falling: thirty feet at least. I have only seen it once. I was at ECU in a park-like common area in the lower campus near Umstead when I noticed two squirrels giving each other hell about something. They were both on the ground about a foot apart, jawing back and forth over an acorn or a Nab someone had dropped. All of sudden, one took off up the closest tree with the other one right on his tail. They went around three times on the way and three more on the way down before hitting the ground and running to the next big tree in line where they proceeded to twirl their way up to the lowest branches. There were a few jumps between limbs and I lost sight of them as the leaves were in, but I could see the movement and hear the scritch-scratching of their little claws as they tunneled through the foliage. Then, one of them burst from the coverage and headed out a big white oak limb. The other took a moment to find his bearings before starting pursuit on the same piece of wood. Before the second could gain any distance, the inexplicable happened. I thought squirrels were the most sure-footed little furry SOB's there were. What, with their scurrying around on telephone wires and thin ledges of buildings and all. This fellow though, must have gotten into the Sunday morning trash behind Umstead and been a little unsteady on his feet. It was a long way away, but I swear I saw his foot slip off the limb right before he fell the distance of a first down to the ground. I fancied I heard a little cry of ,” craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap.”

When he hit, he bounced. Just a little. Then he was still for a heartbeat before popping up and heading straight to and up the tree he and his nemesis had climbed seconds before, apparently none the worse for wear.

I lost track of the second one and assumed he skidded to a safe stop before tipping his cap to the daredevil who was willing to go to such lengths. I went back every once in awhile for the rest of the year with a pack of crackers ready to throw down as bait. If there had been YouTube back then, it could have been the rodent version of Bum Wars and you could share in my mirth. For while I get no pleasure of watching two lonely alcoholics duke it out, you trade them in for squirrels with slippery feet and you've got a pocket full of laughs.

Monday, June 06, 2011


The British had gained control of the air and the Russians were making huge strides to the east. America had been gearing up in Europe and had landed in Italy while hopping islands in the Pacific. On the night of June 5, 1944, a 19 year old Sergeant from South Carolina prepared to jump into France with his colleagues from the 82 Airborne Division.

I wonder if Uncle John Lloyd is in any of those photos you see of Ike visiting the paratroops the eve before D-Day. I wonder why he volunteered to switch companies and jump, as his unit was not scheduled to. Was he embarrassed he had been stricken with appendicitis soon after jumping into Sicily? He had already been through about the most rigorous training the Army had to offer. He had nothing to prove to anyone but himself. I wonder how my Dad felt on the day the Western Union man came to the door, fifteen years old and losing his favorite brother so soon after losing his Father in a train accident. How did Granny handle it? I know she turned to prayer and belief in God's will. Is that the time Dad lost his faith?

John Lloyd had not been home since he had left over two years before. I suppose he wrote letters as that is what you always see in the old movies. Today, the troops are able to keep in touch through blogs and cell phones. Imagine someone having to call home from the belly of a C-47.

"No, I can talk. The light is still red."
"Yeah. We're about to jump. Don't worry. It's what we've been trained to do."
" I said don't worry. Alright, every body's standing up, I've got to go."
"Yes. I have it all. Kiss the kids. The light's green. I love you.""

I wonder about the last time my Dad spoke with him. What did John Lloyd tell him when he left? To take care of their Mother? Uncle Monk was joined up and gone by then. Uncle George was blind. Two of the three girls were already grown and out of the home. The young teen was going to be the only sighted male in the house for awhile.

My youngest Aunt was seventeen and was too busy to go to the prayer meeting at Ebenezer Church on June 5, 1944. She went out with her friends instead. To this day, she feels ashamed she was not there to pray for the troops and her brother. It's silly to think that way of course, but she still speaks bitterly of herself when she remembers that day sixty-seven years ago.

He was first buried in a temporary grave in the days after the invasion. Later, the family had a choice to bring his body home for burial as many so chose to do. They decided to allow him to remain where he fell, a solemn marble cross marking his final resting place alongside thousands of others. Granny never saw his grave. I don't know if she ever flew in her life. Her faith told her she would see her boy again. Whole. Healthy. Shining that sly smile that runs in that side of the family. The smile I see on my oldest already.

There are photos of the temporary grave. Uncle Monk must have been able to find it during his time there. In the Ardennes, he ran into members of John Lloyd's unit. They spoke fondly of their fallen comrade, but there was other work still to do.

The other children made the trip over the years, some more than once, finding tangible proof of their family's sacrifice noted in a peaceful field overlooking the Channel. One day I will make that journey with my kids. I plan to sit and talk to him. Then, I'll probably pull them all close to me and hug them fiercely, as I am sure Granny did with John Lloyd when he left Florence County for the last time in 1942. As I am sure she would have given almost anything to do so again every day for the next thirty-six years.

From The State Newspaper

"John Lloyd Johnson Jr., of Florence, was a sergeant in the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment. His brother, W.W. Johnson, of West Columbia, visited his grave at Normandy for the first time on Memorial Day last year. 'It affected me more than I expected that it would,” he said. “I was 15 when he died. He was my older brother, and he was my hero.'”

John L. Johnson, Jr.
Sergeant, U.S. Army
Parachute Infantry
Airborne Division
Entered the Service from: South Carolina
Died: 6-Jun-44
Buried at: Plot F Row 21 Grave 28
Normandy American Cemetery
Colleville, France
Awards: Purple Heart

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward
which we have striven these many months. The eyes of
the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving
people everywhere march with you. In company with
our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts,
you will bring about the destruction of the German war
machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed
peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is
well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened.
He will fight savagely.
But this is the year I944 ! Much has happened since the
Nazi triumphs of I940-4I. The United Nations have inflicted
upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle,
man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced
their strength in the air and their capacity to wage
overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of
war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained
fighting men. The tide has turned ! The free men of
the world are marching together to Victory !
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to
duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less
than full Victory !
Good Luck ! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty
God upon this great and noble undertaking."
Yes. I have it all. Kiss the kids. The light's green. I love you."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vampire Dreams

I guess the credit can go to Falstaff, or to the casting agents that have put Judy Greer in every television show over the last few years, but I had a vivid dream the other night that could have ended a number of interesting ways. While sitting in a seat that appeared to be in an airplane or a train, I felt a presence over my left shoulder. Looking up, I saw Ms. Greer descending upon my neck with a set of pearly, white fangs.

"What are you doing," I asked, somewhat annoyed as I had been quietly reading.

"I am a vampire. I am going to suck your blood," Ms. Greer replied.

"If you are a vampire, you have super-human strength, right?"

"Of course I do"

"Well then, pick me up."

She wrapped her arms around me and strained. I could tell she was trying with all her might, but I just would not budge. "Anytime now," I implored her, knowing that she was about at the point of giving up.

She released me and looked down, resignation etched into her face. 'Go sit down." I said. Her shoulders drooped as she turned and returned to her seat, still thirsty. I returned to my reading. Only after waking in the morning did I realize this story could have ended so differently in the hands of another, more talented dreamer. Maybe if I send it to Showtime after Dark . . .