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11 January 2021 – “There are, Boy, some things in life you hope you never forget.”

“There are, Boy, some things in life you hope you never forget.”

With that comment, he sat back and lit his old E.A. Carey half bent apple bowled pipe filled with Black Cavendish. I loved that smell. It reminded me of my Grandfather.


I admit I enjoyed listening and talking with the “Old Man” as he sat on the bench at the curve in Highway 80, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. He had aged considerably, a victim, no doubt of the COVID-19 pandemic.


He was a 70ish aged character dressed in faded jeans and wearing his baseball cap memorializing the 58,479  brothers and sisters of his killed in Vietnam.

His gold-rimmed round glasses reminded me of an ancient John Lennon. His hair was longer than I had ever seen. His beard was neatly trimmed. His eyes are bright yet sad. Smile wrinkles and dark circles surrounded his deep brown eyes.

On his right wrist were three bracelets. One was the yellow Live Strong, a 22 A Day Valhalla Project, and his oldest, an MIA honoring SSG Stephen Geist SVN.

His black down-filled POW vest and a matching black scarf with a Cherokee insignia wrapped his throat. He wore fingerless gloves that repeatedly fumbled with an engraved Zippo lighter vintage 1971 inscribed “You never really lived until you nearly died “Vietnam Ducco 70-71.

Without the pipe, cap, bracelets, lighter, and vest, I had never seen him. It was his way.

The Old Man and me, well, we go back years. He became my inspiration to face reality on some of my harder days. I asked him once why did he suppose we hit it off. He thought for a long while and finally, in a soft voice, said, “Because Boy, you need me as much as I need you.”

Years of life were catching up with him. His old worn Walmart walking shoes rehabilitated with some duct tape looked odd. He never much carried about such things. When he wasn’t wearing this outfit, his cowboy boots and hat would be the only change.

As he said, “I’m into comfort these days.”

Today’s story would unfold at his pace. I knew this because I had been here before.

He relit his pipe and sat back.

“It was some time, most likely in the 1980s. My friend Jimbo and I had been out late that night. After all, we were in our 30s, and life was unfolding. Jimbo was married and had a couple of kids. Me, I was newly divorced and trying to catch up after a decade of a marriage that never should have been,” he looked wistful.

“Indiana, that I remember. Duke was the bus driver, and it was an educational tour for some tourism people. We had supper, and Jimbo said we should find entertainment. We did, and the next thing we knew, it was the early morning hours, and we had a rental car to drop off, catch a taxi, and flag down the bus. After all, Boy, I was supposed to be guiding the tour.

“It cost me twenty dollars extra to get that bus driver to catch that bus,” he smiled, “But he did.”

“As the bus door opened, Duke, a fine southern gentleman, smiled, and everyone laughed and applauded. That, too, I remember.

“But Boy, the one thing I remember most was this young lady. She was a petite thing with black hair and lovely eyes, and such an event took her back. She reminded me then, and even now, of a young Allie McGraw,” he sighed.

Now, I must admit I didn’t know who Allie McGraw was. As he was refilling the bowl of his pipe, I Googled the name. It seems she was a movie star.

“Now that you know who she was, I readily confess, I had a crush on her: Allie McGraw and most probably this young lady at first sight. Like many a hormonal man of the days, we had crushes in those days.

“Allie McGraw played Jennifer Cavalleri in a movie – Love Story. She was a music major at Ratcliff. She and Oliver Barrett IV, an heir to a rich family fortune, fall in love. He is a preppie ice hockey player at Harvard. Despite their social class differences, they get married. She dies. He tells his father, who had opposed the wedding who says he is sorry for Oliver’s loss, to which he replies, ‘Love is never having to say you are sorry,’ a line Jennifer had consistently said to Oliver.”

I was not sure where this story was headed. However, I had learned patience from the Old Man. And patient I would be.

“You know, Boy, I cried when Jennifer died. I’m like that.”

A siren wailed in the distance. Most likely, some drunk at the Tybrisa strip had fallen out again. Drinking and smoking were island pastimes. On the horizon, another cargo ship was sliding into the Savannah River.

The Old Man reached into his vest and withdrew an ancient, battered, still serviceable flask. I knew it would contain either Bourbon or Scotch, and on this brisk day, it was a welcome repast. He took a slug and offered one to me. I didn’t hesitate.

“You see, this young lady and I became friends. I saw her through three divorces. Two of which, in my opinion, for what it might have been worth, should never have been. The third, well, I came along a bit too late to voice an opinion. Of course, she never asked my opinion either,” He chuckled at that.

“When you get to this age, though, you wish at times you had stepped up and said something. Not that it might matter much. But you see, I never wanted her to be hurt. She is too good a person to have experienced such.”

As he settled back into his comfort zone, he would tell me how proud he was of her. She is, he said, a talented, lovely, skilled practitioner of communications and public relations. He spoke with pride of how she had “invented” and had her glassblower friend make hummingbirds with bent beaks signifying all the tourists they bumped into there in Indiana. She eventually ended up at a Presbyterian Seminary, where she traveled the world and performed professionally in that job.

With sadness and a sigh, he reflected, “You see, Boy, we were never single at the same time. I’m not sure if we could have ever had more than a friendship, but I have always wondered. We are opposites. She is a progressive liberal; I am the old conservative libertarian. She’s chatty. I’m a listener except when telling my tales.”

He paused. The world and ocean seemed to stand still for a few. He looked at me, and I saw a smile emerge, “Then again, sometimes opposites attract, don’t they?”

The Old Man doesn’t give compliments often and only believes they are earned. He spoke so highly of his friend told me of his admiration, and I suspect his fondness.

“She’s like me, an animal lover. Cats and dogs. A  reader. A wine and food lover. A thinker of things and a person who feels deeply about life and friends and relationships. What more can you ask for in a friend?”

I knew this was a rhetorical question; however, I sat back and thought, What more can you ask for in a friend? I could think of nothing.

The fog began to roll in slowly, and the cargo ships began to talk to one another. It is an old sound of the sea. The guttural sounds can shake the body and soul when you are near them. They were still on the horizon, closing fast to the river.

When I met him years ago, the Old Man told me he came to the ocean to heal himself—at first, recovering from his divorce. Then healing from two aborted love affairs, both of which he blamed himself for fucking up and then losing their child, a daughter.

Later, the ocean would heal his parents’ deaths, best friend Bert’s passing, and cancer. He said the ocean continuity, the sound, the ever lapping waves, and the smell of the brined air that comforted him.

As COVID took hold of the Nation, he had walked to relieve his PTSD, a condition he had not experienced since returning home in the 1970s. Like Forrest Gump, he walked and walked. Some 1912 miles in 2020 alone. He was proud of that accomplishment. Now, though, I noticed sitting next to him, discreetly hidden, was a cane.   I dared not ask. If he wanted me to know, he would tell me.

“I last saw her with her beguiling smile several years ago. She had dumped the hard-ankled local newsman she caught cheating on her. She seemed devastated and yet optimistic. She asked my opinion then of why he would do such a thing. I had no answer. Why does any man do such things? Usually, for sex with the little head out thinking the bigger head. The reality is that the little head doesn’t think; no, it merely responds to the flattery, excitement, and illicitness of doing something wrong and hoping to get away with it. But this asshole, Boy, he did the deed in their house. Fortunately, she ended up with that house and turned it into a home for herself and her adoring pets. I regret we did not live close enough to see each other more often.”

The pipe dottle he knocked out on his worn shoe. He reached into his vest and pulled out a well-worn black English tobacco pouch. His loving wife of 37-years had finally convinced him that the old Persian slipper he used for a pouch wasn’t appropriate in public. Such things never mattered to him. As he always said, he was a minimalist in personal conveniences. He had insisted if she were to replace the slipper, it would be with a used and historic pouch. Being the strong-willed woman she was, she told him he could go on E-bay and find one. He did. A Scottish country gentleman previously owned the pouch, and his family was selling his pipes and accessories. It cost him all of $5.00. He seemed proud of the acquisition.

The Old Man had smoked a pipe since college. He had recently sold his massive and cherished collection and held only to those with emotional significance to him. The Carey pipes were his favorites. He kept the Savenilli and the Meerschaum pipes his lovers had given him. He always carefully and gently used them. When he did, he always seemed to float away in memory for a few minutes, perhaps trying to recapture the feelings with those lovers.

I never saw him without an old 30-30 shell casing he used for a tobacco tamp. One day out of the clear blue, he asked me, “Do you know what this is?”

I told him it looked like a bullet casing. Then after much reflection, he told me it was. He carried two of them. One was from the first deer he had killed after he came home in the 70s. The Old Man grew up hunting and eating game. It was a few years after his return, though, before he could bring himself to hunt again. He explained that war had soured him on hunting. He had felt hunted. He had been a perimeter security sniper, and he pursued the enemy from dark, secretive mountain nests in Laos and Cambodia. It was a time of his life he regretted. That did cause PTSD later in life

Bert, his life-long friend and the manager of an outdoor musical in Bardstown, gave him the second casing. It was from the last deer he would take before giving up his own life to cancer after a decade-long battle. He and Bert hunted for more than 35-years in Alabama and Georgia and the last hunt at Farmstrong in Kentucky, the Old Man’s 300-acre farm in the hollers and ridges of western Kentucky.

Bert saved the Old Man’s life. You see, Bert had died from complications of bladder cancer. He admonished the Old Man to pay close attention to blood should he ever see it in his urine. Sure enough, years later, the Old Man had heeded that advice. He survived that cancer barely by a thread since the bladder was almost consumed by the mushrooming cancerous cells. A surgeon with no bedside manner performed an immediate surgery. The Old Man lived to fight another day.

The Old Man saw death time and again. From his Vet friends, his family, and his chosen friend’s extended family. He asked me once whether I had ever read Tuesdays with Morrie, the book by author Mitch Albom. I said I had.

“Well, Boy, when Bert had survived almost a decade after his bladder cancer, it resurfaced in his bones. Bert had survived the chemo and radiation and resurfaced with an ileostomy bag, of which he was often embarrassed. The day Bert told me he would not take any more treatments, we decided to have Thursdays with Bert.

“For a year, wherever I was, Boy, I went to Bardstown to be with my friend Bert on Thursdays. At the outset, we had lunch and cocktails. Later, when Bert became bedridden under Hospice care, I brought in food and relieved his wife’s care. I remember the final Thursday well. Those days helped me understand the dying experience I no longer fear. 

“General Hal Moore, Bert’s brother “Hamburger,” and I had cocktails at the bedside, and then Bert slipped into a semi-consciousness. He started moving his fingers as if calculating something. Bert, by training, was an accountant. He looked to the corner of the room and carried on a lucid conversion with his deceased father.

“General Moore, Bert’s neighbor at the time, was well-known for his role in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley captured in the book and movie We Were Soldiers excused himself. Hamburger and I poured ourselves another cocktail and waited. After a few minutes, Bert opened his eyes and asked for water. We joked about his passing. He told us he was waiting for his brother to get there that weekend. The brother came. They reunited, joked, and laughed, I am told, and Bert then closed his eyes and died peacefully later that evening.

“Bert was my best friend. He only admonished me once in four decades after adopting the Husky-Wolf dog that I always said saved my life. Bert said, ‘Brother, remember we will always outlive our pets.’ He was right. My world collapsed when I had to put down Stimpy, the life-saving dog. Although I would go on to have several dogs, Little Bit and Max, Louie and now Calista, none were ever as close to me as Stimpy, who saved me from suicide.”

Most anyone who knew the Old Man would be surprised he contemplated suicide more than once. He suffers from depression, a disorder from his childhood.

The Old Man grew up in the 1950s when the only rule was home before the outdoor farm light came on. His family didn’t put fun into dysfunctional, he often said. He dearly loved his Mother (Polly). His father (Johnny) not so much. His father was a womanizer, and in small-town Princeton, as an only child, he carried the weight of his Mother’s humiliation.

His Mom and Dad had married when she was 21, and he was 16. Scandalous, you might say, for that era. They were next-door neighbors on White Street at the edge of town. Despite the womanizing, they would be married for more than 50-years. During his final years, Miss Polly cared for Johnny as he suffered and died from cancer.

Johnny’s father (Mr. John) was an angry man, disabled by injuring his back while packing “hogsheads” (tobacco barrels) at a local warehouse; he would later find religion and serve as a Sunday School teacher and the church sextant for decades.

Johnny’s mother (Miss Faye) was Cajun, who, like the Old Man’s father and mother, worked at the local hosiery mill, owned by the Harralson’s, who lived in the “big house on the hill.” 

The Old Man had no relationships to speak of with his paternal grandparents. They were cold toward him and his mother. Many years later, the Old Man’s wife would explain that because they most likely saw his mother as being “black.” She was a Cherokee and had a dark complexion, as did the Old Man. His mother was a gentle, kind, and loving woman who gave great hugs. He adored her, and when he would speak of her, his eyes often teared up.

He told me of his Cherokee heritage, how his Great Aunt Anzie raised him to respect planting by the “signs,” and how to enjoy Chickory-laced coffee and use herbs to heal, how she read him Bible stories and taught him how to give good hugs, how to cook, and clean and wash his clothes. By age 12, the Old Man was prepared to live independently.

He shared his love of photography, the paranormal, science, psychology, reading, a good Scotch, and Bourbon. He shared his wisdom about listening closely about what is not said in a conversation being as important as what is said.

He shared his memories of lost loves, how he and his wife Kay met and married, lost a child, and over the years would “adopt” daughters, young women who needed their help and guidance, or whom they held great admiration of  Sandra, Danielle, Jannette, and Penelope. He told me he never really cared if he had a son, even though it would carry on his family legacy.

And today, he shared his remembrances of the lovely woman he met boarding a bus in Indiana.

“Boy, recently I sent this lovely woman a small present.”

“You did?”

“Yes, Boy, a bundle of lavender flowers. You know they represent purity, silence, devotion, serenity, grace, and calmness. Also, purple is the color of royalty and speaks of elegance, refinement, and luxury. Purple is also associated with the crown chakra, the energy center associated with a higher purpose and spiritual connectivity. Can you think of anyone that deserves such a gift? Indeed, she does that young Indiana woman of my mind. I miss her.”

With that, he stuck his pipe under the mustached lip, picked up his cane, and stood.

“The cane, you are wondering, Boy?”

“Yes, sir, you okay?

“Yes, son, it’s the knee. A brace is on its way. Soon, I’m hoping you will see me back to myself walking just like my hero Forrest.”

It hurt me to see him walk. But he was an Old Man, and I was the Boy. I always would be. And I knew we would be back to the bench at the curve of Highway 80 on Tybee Island, someday. 

-30-

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10 January 2021 – “I am 71 years of age,” Tybee Island, Ga.

I am now 71 years of age.

I find it hard to believe and even understand.

Fifty years where have they gone, Bob Seger and I ask one another.

Recently, a friend who turned 80 sent a list of things he had learned. That list, with some modifications, seems to apply to me. 

I edited this slightly to meet my understandings of my life.

#1 After loving my parents, my spouse, my “children,” my friends, now I have started loving and forgiving myself.

#2 I have finally realized that I am not “Atlas.” The world does not rest on my shoulders.

#3 I no longer bargain with vegetable, fruit, garden vendors, and others who provide me services and goods. A few pennies more will not burn a hole in my pocket, but it might help the poor fellow save for his daughter’s school fees, their son’s cancer treatments, or even their retirement.

#4 I pay my waitress a big tip. The extra money might bring a smile to her face. She is toiling much harder for a living than me.

#5 I stopped telling the elderly that they’ve already told that story many times, as my wife often reminds me because I now do the same thing. These stories allow me to walk down memory lane and relive the past, and sometimes I want to do that.

#6 I have learned not to correct people, even when I know they are wrong. The onus of making everyone perfect is not on me. Peace is more precious than perfection.

#7 I give compliments freely and generously and often. Compliments are a mood enhancer not only for the recipient but also for me. And a small tip for the recipient of a compliment: never, NEVER turn it down;  say “Thank You.”

#8 I have learned not to bother about a crease or a spot on my shirt or pants. Personality speaks louder than appearances.

#9 I walk away from people who don’t value me. They might not know my worth, but I do.

#10 I remain calm when someone plays dirty to outrun me in the rat race. I am not a rat, and neither am I in any race.

#11 I am learning not to be embarrassed by my emotions. It’s my emotions that make me human.

#12 I have learned that it’s better to drop the ego than break a relationship. My ego will keep me aloof, whereas I will never be alone with relationships. I write letters of amending and ask for forgiveness for my youthful foolish, and often hurtful decisions.

#13 I have learned to live each day as if it’s the last. After all, it might be the last!

#14 I am doing what makes me happy. I am responsible for my happiness, and I owe it to myself. Happiness is a choice. You can be happy at any time, just choose to be! 

And that’s what I have to say about that.

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24 December 2021 – From our family to yours

Zuzu Bailey: “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” George Bailey: “That’s right, that’s right. Attaboy, Clarence.” It’s a Wonderful Life (1945)

Every man and woman needs to know they have made a difference in life and that their lives have impacted their community, family, and friends. George Bailey was fortunate enough to have Clarence, Angel First Class, remind him of his contributions and value. This Christmas, let us take time to tell others of their importance and value in our lives.

We ask God to bless and protect our military and the civilian men and women standing vigil nightly that we may lie in our beds safe, enjoying freedom and liberty. Protect our law enforcement officers and their families.

We believe All Lives Matter, that our Constitution is the foundation of our Nation, that God, not the government, grants us our rights, and we are determined to remain free and independent people. Pray for our country and its leadership that we may stay a sovereign Nation. Let us respect and embrace that we are a diverse and welcoming society that invites those who will abide by our laws, who seek the American dream, and who want to participate in our great Republic to join us. Pray, we never let our vigil down to protect and defend our country and never succumb to the vagaries and idiocies of socialism and progressivism.

Let us care for our homeless veterans and our families in poverty before extending aid and comfort to the rest of the world. Secure our borders, and advance the ways to enter our country legally. So, those who come may create their American dream to excel, live free of persecution, and worship as they choose. Pray that God may share his Grace upon our Great Republic, and we may live to fight another day.

58,479 steps in memory – Semper Fi,

Love, Peace and Grace, Darryl, Kay and ” PTSD Service Dog Calista” Armstrong – 2021

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23 December 2021 – Christmas 1958, Ratliff Street, Princeton, Ky

We opened presents on Christmas Eve after driving around and looking at lights that gave Santa time to visit and leave after eating his cookies and drinking his milk. I was 7-years old in this picture, and it was taken at the house on Ratliff Street, a dark brick house that I always found creepy. Thankfully, we only lived there two years, and then we moved back to the “homeplace” at 309 White Street just down from the Southside Baptist Church. As you can tell, I always wanted to be a cowboy. I mean, look at that smile. Momma would hear nothing of that. However, I scored a new cap pistol and cap rifle this Christmas. I still have both “cap guns” hanging on the wall of the 1850s cabin at Tranquilla II, Eddy Creek. If you look closely, you will see a plastic white snowman ornament to the left of the picture. We still have it.

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The “Waffle House” Thanksgiving; “Quiet Time” the day before Thanksgiving until January 2 every year

Recently my wife expressed concern that I didn’t join her and her family for the Miller Thanksgiving, a tradition I have passed on for many years. It genuinely bothers here and yet I have my reasons. I reminded her why a quiet Thanksgiving at a Waffle House, or alone reading a book and eating a turkey sandwich is important to me. I know this sounds strange, doesn’t it?

You see, the day before Thanksgiving until the day after the New Year was the “quiet” time in my family growing up. As an only child, for good or bad, I bore the brunt of the passive-aggressiveness and sometimes loud disagreements that my Mom and Dad often had.

My Father was biological because he is the reason I am here. My birth wasn’t a surprise; my parents had been married five years before I came along. Being a “Dad,” as I would think of a Dad, was foreign to him. However, I’m pretty sure that Dad never thought about the concept of having a kid and certainly not engaging in play or important time with one.

Therefore, there was always tension between Mom and Dad, and I always assumed it was because of me. I went through my childhood trying to be good, quiet, and out of sight when possible. There was always an underlying feeling of tension, worry, and stress. However, come the day before Thanksgiving until the day after New Year, there was an unwritten “truce.” Somehow they both enjoyed the season’s spirit, and the psychological “hostilities” ceased. And always, I breathed a sigh of relief. For me, a quietness without the feeling of it being passive-aggressive was a relief.

Kay, who comes from a family of five where there is a great deal of talking over one another, and chaos at every family event, feels right at home in those situations. I don’t. This Thanksgiving as I have for many in the past, I chose to go to Waffle House and buy lunch anonymously for several traveling folks while I sat and enjoyed a quiet meal, read a chapter of a good book, and breathed my sigh of relief.

I have come to better understand the challenges she has understanding me after 41-years of knowing one another and 37-years of marriage. Hopefully, she is doing the same. I thanked her for her concern.

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3 December 2021 – When white met yellow and fell in love, Tranquilla II, Eddy Creek

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1 December 2021 – Yellow by Coldplay, Eddy Creek

Yellow

Yellow by Coldplay Look at the stars Look how they shine for you And everything you do Yeah they were all yellow I came along I wrote a song for youAnd all the things you do And it was called yellow So then I took my turn

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