Half full or half empty

Bill Miles

This is a good time for memories. While viewing a ‘glass approach’, I admit to having a hard time always seeing it a “half full”. “Half empty” frequently is simply realistic. The late and great Congressman Jamie Loyd Whitten used to enumerate a litany of accomplishments which got longer as he added seniority and craftiness. These are ingredients, in my opinion, that reside in the past as our leaders seem to be content on telling folks how to live a sanctimonious life and enjoy a vague imaginary comfort. “I can remember the good ole days,” Mr. Whitten would say, “and they weren’t always good.” Obviously he was referring to a common southern rural heritage of Spartan existence. Maybe that’s why he’d report to his constituencies that “Only when we started using our nation’s resources to back local development did Mississippi get out of the mud.” Rick Bragg rightfully occupies a perch recalling his evolvement from Northeast Alabama’s Appalachia landscape. After being entertained by TCT’s rendition of “A Christmas Story” last weekend, I thought about my own quest from a ‘Red Ryder Air Rifle’. I don’t recall adding all of the identifying characteristics recited by the “half full” expecting youngster whose story was being relived decades later. Naturally lack of adult responsibility then made life simpler. But it did not make surviving easier. I can recall hearing about a youngster or two in my growing up period who succumbed to complications attributed to measles or small pox, or some other disease now considered eradicated (for the most part). From early recollections I can see a town dwelling family brazenly drive across our hill side pasture searching for their live cedar which they’d whack down to be used for their family decorations. They never bothered to ask permission or say “thank you”. Dad just sort of tolerated it with an eye cast on the ‘season for giving’. We’d have a live tree but it usually was adorned with celloid covered sweet gum balls. Cotton left from remnants of the cash crop would intermingle with long strings of rope like fabric my mother kept year after year. An apple, orange and chocolate covered marshmallow candy were treats all could enjoy. My first remembrances of this time of year would have been during fighting of the Japanese and Germans (sometime Italians) during World War II. I had three brothers and a brother-in-law wearing the uniform. Two of them were in some rough fighting that historians acclaim for bravery. A reminder that sticks in my mind most occurred right after Christmas shortly after the beginning of a New Year. My sister, whose husband was in the U. S. Army Air Corps (we had no air force designation then), had come home from Zion, Illinois where they had followed hundreds if not thousands of similarly ambitious southerners North. She was expecting their first child. My brother 13 years older than I was waiting for his orders to go to Camp Shelby for Basic, then to Ft. Ord for tank mastery and then to the South Pacific to engage Japs by landing Marines and foot soldiers on shore to heavy combat. He was a real outdoors youth. He’d grown up fishing the Bull Mountain, squirrel hunting the hills and hollows and naturally emerged as a crack marksman with Dad’s single shot .22 rifle. I looked up to him. My other siblings had already left the home. My sister had returned by herself. On a cold Saturday my brother said an astonishing thing. He invited me to tag along with him on a squirrel hunt. Boy, for a five year-old-kid I imagined I was at least half grown. We wandered back behind the house, trudged through sage grass and meandered down hills to wander along a spring-fed stream. I’d been used to seeing my brother come home from such an outing with a ‘poke’ (bag) of dead squirrels from which my mother would prepare a delicious meal of biscuits and gravy. Maybe I’d eat a bite of the meat. That was before a city friend years later acquainted me with the explanation that a squirrel was simply another name for a large rodent like R-A-T. On this day I recall years after the event that my brother didn’t seem to have his heart into hunting that day. Not only did he not ‘bag’ one, we didn’t even see any. As we sauntered back toward the house and got in sight of the gravel road that led by it, a car was moving out of the drive. It was Dr. W. L. Orr I was told. Then when we went inside I was introduced to my brand new niece who had been born while I was off, of all things, looking for squirrels.

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