Reminiscing

The State of Tennessee took the old farm place, up on the side of Rhône Mountain in Kingston, Tennessee for a new highway. They called it eminent domain, which is, “the power of the state to take private property for public use with payment of compensation to the owner” (Dictionary.com). Being too young to understand what was going on, (Why did they need another highway? They already had one that ran right by the farm!) I only knew that my grandparent’s farm wasn’t going to be my grandparent’s farm anymore.

They moved from Tennessee to Georgia back in the early seventies, when I was only six or seven years old, however, I still have a lot of memories of the old place. Thinking back on it, it seems as if I was much older when they moved away. Even though I grew up in Hixson, a suburb of Chattanooga, I spent a lot of time there – during school breaks and vacations – and experienced things that the other kids my age never did.

I can still remember the old house before it burned and the mobile home replaced it. My parents say that I was too young to remember that house, but, although I don’t have complete memories of it, I can still describe certain parts of the layout and the color and pattern of some of the wallpaper. I even remember the single wire hanging from the ceiling with a lone bulb swinging on the end. I remember the outside of it as being black, although I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

There were fields and barns and gardens and woods and a big pond where cows used to drink. As a kid I used to drink water from the pond, too. I didn’t know anything about dirty water and bacteria back then. I never got sick from it though. I remember climbing up into the hay loft and jumping down on the bales and loose hay below. After one of my many daredevil jumps I looked beside me, and into the face of a fat corn snake who had decided that the hay was a nice place for a nap. I could swear that he had a grin on his face and a wink in his eye, approving of the fun I was having. Once, when walking around the dirt road from the pond, I found a small hog-nosed snake. When I picked it up – yes, I played with snakes – it curled up and turned upside down, appearing to die. I was afraid if killed it until it rolled back over and started crawling around my fingers. I put it in the pocket of my overalls and it slept in there most of the day.

During the growing seasons I would spend most days in the garden, weeding up and down the rows, between and around the vegetables. Some days lunch would be a pickled pig’s foot, some saltine crackers and a bottle of hot sauce, washed down with cool water from the spring. Other days I’d pick something from the vine and eat it there in the garden. Speaking of the spring, there was a fresh water spring at the end of the driveway, that fed into a cement block cistern and overflowed into a little pond that ran under the road and to the nearby creek. We kept a dipping gourd hanging by the spring box for drinking. That was the coldest and best tasting water I have ever had, and haven’t had any like it since they left the farm. The little pond was always filled with watercress that was always fresh and tasted so good on a hot day.

There were other amenities that you would find on most farms. Aside from the spring box, hay barn and pond, we also had a chicken house, where I would go get eggs for breakfast. Mama chickens can get mean when you go to get their eggs! There was a smoke house, where I always thought the older men went to smoke cigarettes and tell dirty jokes, because we kids were never allowed to go into the smoke house. And lots of woods. I think this was my favorite part of the farm. When I was a kid my dad was the scout master of our local Boy Scout troop. The troop built a camp in the woods at the old farm and spent three or four summer camps there. I used to go and spend a few nights during the week until mom came and then I would spend the rest of the week with her and my grandparents at the trailer. Even when they weren’t camping, I still loved to go to the campsites and “just be”. It was like I held some kind of ownership in those sites, because I had camped there, too, and that was my realm.

Other memories I have of the old place and of the town of Kingston during that time was the dairy farm across the road that had the creek running through it where my granddaddy and I used to fish. My older brother caught a carp in that creek one day, and granddaddy told him to take it to my grandmother to cook up, wrapped in a cow paddy! He threw the carp back lol! The first time I ever flew was when the owner of the dairy farm, Mt Bacon, took us up in his single engine plane, flying us around the farms so we could see them in their entirety. There was also a little country store close to the farm that had the meat and cheese counter in the back, barrels of pickles and crackers and other goods, jars of pickled pig’s feet, sausages and eggs and lots of baskets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables.

The town has changed a lot since then, but some of the town I remember can still be seen if you know where to look. I’m not sure what prompted this journey down memory lane, but it’s been nice to revisit the old farm and walk though the woods and fields again. Thank you for walking along with me. This truly was a ramble.

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Take A Rest

Nope, this isn’t a follow up to my previous blog, “Take Your Time” (see my blog from April 29, 2019). This as a trip down memory lane for my American readers, and anyone who has been to America and driven our interstate highways. Yes, I’m talking about those islands of the interstates

The monarchs of the motorways

Those blue sign bastions of the byways

The park-eat-use the bathroom-spend money in our vending machines-take a break from driving, usually a godsend for long-haul truckers and long distance drivers (this was just too long to italicize).

I’m talking about…the REST AREA!

The trophy wife and I have been doing a good bit of traveling by car over the past month or so. A couple trips to the coasts of North and South Carolinas and a couple trips up to the mountains to escape the stifling heat of the South, and we usually stop at a rest area (or Welcome Center, when we cross state lines) to stretch our legs and use the bathroom. As I’ve been driving and stopping, or just looking over as we drive by one of them, I can’t help but remember the days of traveling before there were rest areas.

I was born in Chattanooga Tennessee, the suburb of Hixson to be exact. We moved to South Carolina when I was fifteen. I remember some trips to middle Tennessee, Alabama and up to Ohio, where we would stop on the way to stretch, use the bathroom and maybe eat lunch, but there were no nice, state-maintained facilities. There were, however, woods! Yep, if you had to go, you stopped on the side of the road, ran behind the nearest tree and did what you had to do – or doo doo, if that was the case.

The trips I remember best, though, are the trips we took to Surfside Beach South Carolina before we moved over here. For three or four summers my mom’s family would rent a two-story house at Surfside for a week-long beach trip. The families would gather at my aunt and uncle’s house in Georgia, then we would have a long convoy to the beach. Each car had a CB radio in it, so the families could communicate from car to car on the way (not only was this before there were rest areas, but it was also before modern society and conveniences; you know, the good old days). When we needed to stop, the drivers would tell one another over the CB and pick a place to stop. I remember dad pulling our green Country Squire station wagon – with the wood grain siding – over to the side of the highway, with all of the family cars behind us, and the women making a beeline for the gap in the barbwire fencing, toilet paper in hand, to find the nearest secluded tree. When they were done the men would then follow suit. If it was lunch time dad would drop the tailgate on the station wagon and pull out the ice chest where the bologna, cheese, kool aid and condiments were stored and the bags with the bread and chips. After everyone washed their hands, lunch was prepared and we ate under the shade of the trees along the highway. One time another car pulled in behind our convoy, and a young couple got out and headed for the woods. When they came out, dad asked, “hey, y’all want a sammich?” And that’s the way it was; pee in the woods and then have a sammich and maybe make a new friend with the others who might pull in behind you.

When I was thinking of this blog I thought, Jim (I always call myself Jim), you’ve got people in other parts of the world who will read this (I hope) and not know what you’re talking about. I also thought, that’s a pretty good thought, so I asked my highly intelligent, well-travelled friend, Jo if they had anything like a rest area in England. She told me they had service stations that were buildings, usually with bathrooms and maybe a restaurant inside, with a hotel attached to some of them. I told her we had convenience stores that were set up like that, but without the attached hotel. She didn’t think there was anything like our rest area in England. Wanting to really see what I could find in the subject, I went to Wikipedia to see if they had anything. Well, folks, if you think this post is long, go look up Rest Area on Wikipedia! You’ll spend a lot more time on there than you will reading this rambling, I promise you.

Anyway, not to give a full history and description of rest areas in other countries (I do invite you to go to Wikipedia and read what it says about the subject though. It’s really interesting), I did learn that the UK and Ireland have what are called Lay-bys, which are the most comparable to our rest areas here. Some are only big enough for a vehicle or two, while others can hold several. Germany and Austria have Rastplatz, which may or may not have bathrooms (and I’m not sure about the “tree” rule). And France has Aire de repos, which is basically a picnic area. The Wikipedia site also talks about rest areas (or whatever they are referred to) in Asia, Australia, and North America – what…they don’t have any in Antarctica? Maybe one of my future trips will be to that continent. Then I can come back and update the Wikipedia site.

So…this is my latest rambling. I hope you liked reading it as much as I liked writing it. I always say that any day you learn something new is a good day. Until next time, I hope you get some time to Take A Rest.

Photo Credits: Jim G Black

Location: I-20 Eastbound, just outside of Columbia SC

WRITE ON!!

I was working on a blog titled, “Baseball Caps and T-Shirts”, however, I read something the other night that really got under my skin. I’ll even go as far as to say it pissed me off. I’ve been thinking about this blog for a few nights now, and decided to hold off on the other. You’ll just have to wait for a southern boy’s guide to male “couture”.

So, anyway, I was reading a post in a social media site for writers. The young lady had received her first rejection and, to paraphrase, said that they told her the heart and soul came through, but the writing just wasn’t there. She was asking for help about writing styles and looking for some instruction. One of the replies started by saying, “I don’t mean this to come across as a personal attack…”. Well, you know I had to see what the rest of it said, so I clicked on it.

As I’m writing this, I feel like it may be a little long, so, if you wanna go to the bathroom or fix a light snack before you continue reading, feel free to go ahead (unless you’re reading this on your phone, then you’re probably already in the bathroom).

The replier went on to say that (again, paraphrasing) with so many programs out there making it able for anyone to write and publish books for the mass market – blah blah blah. They ended the reply with, “Just because you can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, doesn’t mean you can be a chef at a gourmet restaurant.”

?!WT ABSOLUTE F?!

Some of you don’t know this about me, but I have a very short fuse at times and will blow up and say things I shouldn’t say.

What? No, Jim! Not you!

Yes, absolutely me. I explode quickly and then I’m over it, not thinking about the ruin and destruction I’ve left in my wake. I’m sorry. I’m trying to do better. Sometimes. Okay, but I have good intentions of doing better, and we all know what good intentions is a paving material for.

So…my first reaction was to blast the replier right there on the site, but that would be against the site rules and get me kicked out of the group. I lose enough sleep over stupid crap without trying to step into more stupid crap, so I decided to take my anger and use it in a more constructive way. Like blasting them right here on my blog!

Yes, asshat! See? There I go again. You just personally attacked every indie author and self publisher out there, of which I consider myself. The writer was responding to a rejection for a story she had written and submitted to editors. It wasn’t like she had just put something out there and got bad reviews. She is trying to go the traditional route, not self publish, and was asking for constructive feedback from a community of people who are supposed to be there to teach and encourage. For the person replying to come back with, what amounted to, “just because you know your alphabet, doesn’t mean you’re capable of writing a story”, is a slap in the face to anyone who writes, whether professional author or simple blogger – like me.

All I can say is, if this guy has never received a rejection, then, he is either the exception or he’s never written anything worth querying. To all of you who are writing, WRITE ON! Do it for you, if for no other reason. You never know who needs to read your words, or who may be inspired by what you do. If it makes you happy, then continue being happy. Look at me. I’m probably the only one who reads my blog, but that doesn’t stop me. LOL! Actually, people do read it, I think. Thank you all for the encouragement and the support you give me. I love you all.

Twitter and My Grandparent’s Farm

So! It’s been a long time since my last post. Last April to be exact. I hope everyone has had a great – and safe – Summer/Winter, depending on which side of the equator you’re on.

You’re reading the title and thinking to yourselves, (I know you are. I can sense it.) “Wow! You’re grandparents got WiFi on their farm.” Uh…no. My grandparents are long since deceased and the farm is long gone. However, if you follow my Twitter account (jimgblack1), you will see the following in my timeline, #vss365, which is a daily writing prompt exercise. The prompts are given every morning and a different very talented writer is responsible for each different month. VSS stands for Very Short Story and, since Twitter only allows 280 characters, yes, you have to keep it short. When I first discovered it I was writing almost every day. After a break I decided to get back to the daily exercise to keep practicing my writing, and it’s a great way to meet like-minded writers.

The prompt for August 1st was cellar. I decided that a theme was what I needed to stay on task, and cellar got me thinking about the old farmstead that my grandparents bought in Georgia back in the 1970s. The old farm became my theme. I was doing good the first three days. The prompts were cellar, sacrifice and Jupiter. Yes, I even came up with a good one for Jupiter. Today’s word, though, had me stumped. Empress! Oh, my. There aren’t any empresses that I know of in Georgia, and certainly none in the 1970s. Suddenly, as things sometimes do, a whole plethora of words invaded my head and a poem started taking form. It’s way too long for #vss365, however, I thought I’d write the whole thing here as a blog, and put an excerpt on the Twitter prompt. So…here goes:

This word, I think will stump me

This one will make me fall

There are no empresses in Georgia

At least, none that I recall

I started my mind wandering

Over animals, minerals and plants

Were there Empress Roses, Empress Quartz

Maybe Empress Ants

So I sat down to an online search

Just to see what I could see

And staring back from the screen

The Chinese Empress Tree

Then all at once I saw it

Very clearly in my head

That stately Chinese Empress

Growing beside the shed

It’s petals pink and delicate

Sickly sweet was it’s smell

The colors reminded me closely

Of an abalone Shell

Okay, by now you’ve figured it out

So I guess I will confess

“A Chinese Empress Tree in Georgia

Surely, man you jest”

Maybe there wasn’t an Empress Tree

On the acreage where I once romped

But you gotta admit

It’s a hell of a poem

And it helped me with this prompt!

Haha!! Those last two lines crack me up! Thank you for reading and supporting my blog and my writing.

Back to the Anvil!

Take Your Time

What comes to mind when you hear those words, “take your time”? Maybe you think of “slow down” or “pay careful attention”. I had a different meaning in mind when I thought about this blog, however, I think “slow down” and “pay careful attention” fit the bill here, too. I’m talking about taking your vacation time.

I recently took two weeks off from work. This is something I started last year and was fortunate enough to do again this year. I turned 52 on April 18th, and have been in my current career for just over twenty-two years, twelve of those as a state employee. I used to feel guilty about taking time off and leaving my coworkers to cover shifts without me there to help. You know what I realized? They don’t feel bad about taking time off and leaving me there. So, in October of 2017 I told myself, “Self…if you wait to take time off only when you have somewhere to go, you’ll never take any time off.” I got to thinking about my work schedule, the fact that my wife is now retired, we are empty nesters and able to take some short-term trips, and I sat down with the calendar for 2018 and started planning my time off. I sat down in October of last year and did the same thing.

Before I go into my plan, I need to clarify some things. I work twelve-hour shifts, which breaks down to about fifteen or sixteen nights a month (anyone who works twelves knows how this works). One week I work Monday, Tuesdays and Friday-Sunday. The next week I only work Wednesday and Thursday. And the weeks alternate like that, so I have every other Friday-Sunday off. During the short weeks (only work Wednesday and Thursday) I can take those two days off and be off seven days. The way it works out I only work about six months out of the year, so I tell people I’m “semi” retired lol! I crack myself up sometimes.

Call it vacation, staycation, playcation or whatever else you want to call it. To me it’s a mental, as well as physical health getaway. Here’s my time off schedule.

One week in January, February and March

Two weeks in April (birthday month)

One week in May

No time off during the summer months, so my coworkers can have vacation time with their kids and families (we’re no longer at the mercy of school schedules since my wife retired, and can take off whenever we want)

One week in September

Two weeks in October (anniversary month)

No time off in November and December so coworkers can spend the holidays with their families (our families are close so we don’t have to travel anywhere to be with them)

I know my plan is unique to me and not everyone has that much time to take, or may be limited to when you can take your time off, due to kids’ school schedules, or spouse’s work schedule, as examples. My point is, if you’ve got the time, “Take Your Time”. If you’ve got a yard project you have been wanting to get done, take some time off and do it. Or at least get a great start on it. And it’s time off that you are working to accrue, so don’t feel guilty about taking it off. I know guys who never miss the opening day of hunting season. They’re in the woods or on the water before the sun comes up. They’ve been doing it right for a long time. Now it’s my time to take my time, slow down and pay attention – to me.

Truck Shopping

So, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that my beloved truck of the past 13 years has died, lonely, in a parking lot in North Carolina. I wasn’t able to be there in the end, but went last week to learn that there is no hope, other than to put in a rebuilt or new motor. I’m going back today to clean it out and say my last goodbye before turning it over to a salvage company. It was a great truck and we had some great trips together, but I have shed my tears and poured one out in remembrance, so now it’s time to put it behind me and move on. That means truck shopping. And even worse – truck payments!

To be honest, I was hoping that the truck would last long enough to get my son home from NC after his time with the military was up, then I was going to trade it for something newer, anyway. In its last act of defiance, it beat me to the punch, taking away my trade in allowance.

I’ve spent a lot of time online lately, searching auto dealerships in the state and looking at their truck and SUV inventories. I’ve discovered a few things in my searching. One of them is new trucks are expensive as hell! Used ones aren’t much better, either. One question I have is, “Why don’t they put beds on trucks anymore?” My old truck was a crew cab pickup with a six and a half foot bed. A few years back I bought a twelve-foot kayak. You should have seen me driving down the interstate with that thing hanging off the back of the truck.

A sheet of plywood is four feet by eight feet. You used to be able to lay a sheet of plywood flat in the bed of a truck and close the tailgate, and you could stack it up to the top of the bed. Now you have to lay it at an angle, because of the wheel wells, and, even with the tailgate down, you still don’t have eight feet, so you have to also add in straps to hold the load in place. Some truck beds and bed liners have slots built in so you can lay a couple two by fours across the bed and raise it up over the wheel wells to lay the plywood flat, however, now you have about a foot of space below that is empty, unless you are buying studs on which to nail said plywood.

Another thing I’ve noticed, too, is that single cab trucks also have the same short beds, and run almost as much in price as the crew cab or double cab trucks. This prompts another question. “If they’re charging the same price for half a cab, why aren’t they compensating for that by giving a longer bed?” In other words, they should add the length of the missing half cab to the bed, making it longer. Maybe a longer bed is an option I could order, but I don’t want to have to wait for the truck. I want to be able to drive it home that day. If there is a new truck out there with a long bed I have yet to find it online.

I do like a lot of the smaller SUVs I’ve seen, and am leaning closer to those, for the price as well as the better gas mileage they offer. I drive sixty miles round trip to and from work and the gas mileage is important. As a “king size” man a car is just not practical. I like to be able to ride without scraping my knuckles on the road when I hang my arm out the window.

I’m off next week, and will be ramping up my search. Hopefully it won’t be long before people will see my pewter Presbyterian College Alumni plate on the front of a nice new vehicle.

Four Peanut Butter Cookies

For those who don’t know, I’m a police officer with twenty-two years under the badge. I’ve seen people at their worst and I’ve seen people at their best. I’ve had some really great assignments and some that had me worried that I might not make it home at the end of my shift. For the past three years I have been working as a university police officer, and hope to retire from here in a few years. It’s a great place to work. It can be tedious at times, and some of the calls are ridiculous. Kids will be kids, you know?

At the end of last year I was in the Starbucks on campus. I ordered a slice of lemon pound cake and a large coffee. One of our students, a young woman who worked there part-time, but was off that night, was in there, after working her other part-time job, and asked if she could pay for my cake and coffee. When I told her she didn’t have to do that, she said that she had several dollars on her card (most colleges and universities have a card that students can load money on to and use it at the eating places on campus), and she would not be able to spend what she had left before the end of the year. She went on to say that her boyfriend was a police officer, and she appreciated when people did nice things for him, such as pay for coffee or a meal. I allowed her to pay for my cake and coffee.

Fast forward to last night. I had finished eating “breakfast” in the cafeteria and, on my way out, looked to see if they had any peanut butter cookies on the dessert bar. They didn’t, so I walked over to Starbucks to see what they had. The same student was working. I looked at the cookies they had. No peanut butter. She asked if I wanted anything and I said I was looking to see if they had peanut butter cookies and commented that the cafeteria didn’t have any. She said that they didn’t sell peanut butter anymore. I bought another kind of cookie and a milk, and went back to work.

A few hours later I was putting some cones out in a parking lot, when a car pulled in. I heard a woman’s voice say, “Mr Officer” and, when I turned I recognized the student from Starbucks. She came over and handed me a small container, saying, “I knew you’d be out here and I brought you some peanut butter cookies.” This young woman, after finishing her shift, had gone out and found some peanut butter cookies, and then found me on campus to give them to me. When I finished what I was doing, I opened the container to find four peanut butter cookies. I’m not going to lie, I teared up.

After twenty-two years on the job, with all of the awards, commendations and certifications I’ve received and earned, those four peanut butter cookies, and the spirit in which they were given, beats them all hands down.

Note: I purposely left out the names of the student and the university for privacy purposes, however, I did show this to the student before publishing, and she was very receptive to the post.