ONE OF THESE DAYS….(May 4th, 2018)

…I really will get around to seeing if I can find my notes from my experiences of May 4th, 1998 on and around the campus of Kent State University (and my subsequent first trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–an experience that taught me to never take that institution lightly). The notes aren’t where they’re supposed to be…and it’s a big house…with a lot of boxes. I probably wrote ten thousand words at the time.

Might still be interesting.

But, I confess, Neil Young–not to mention a thousand pictures worth a thousand words apiece–probably still said it better….

Links to past years here…

I ain’t forgot.

I’M NOT YET PREPARED TO CALL MYSELF THE COMEBACK KID…

..But:

April views were the best I’ve had since June, 2017.

April visitors were the best since January, 2017.

March was nearly as good.

That followed an eight-month slump that seemed to strongly coincide with Google changing its search engine parameters last June/July (many websites across the board have cited similar declines).

I’m still not quite back to the standard I established in the first six months of last year…and, of course, my numbers remain quite small.

But they mean a lot to me and I’m grateful to all who visit, view, read and comment. I’ve been very fortunate in thus far attracting a uniformly high class of people: all debates (including those conducted via email) have been civil; all comments have been pertinent; all suggestions intelligent and, I assure you, duly considered, even if I haven’t been able to enact certain changes (time and my lack of tech-savvy being the two principal culprits).

Six-and-a-half years in, no one whose first thought for a blog name was “No (Unearned) Comfort Here” could ask for more than that.

Here’s to everybody, not forgetting those artists who inspired me in the first place:

I, TOO, WANT TO RUN….BUT THERE’S STILL NOWHERE TO GO (Memory Lane: 1998, 1966–1974)

Detroit Tiger slugger Hank Greenberg, the first great Jewish-American baseball star. Also subject of the fine documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, whereby hangs a tale, of identity…and other things.

I found this (which I strongly recommend to all my readers) linked to a Terry Teachout re-tweet.

The original tweet read, in part: “I have had two Jewish friends in the last week tell me that their families have moved money out of the UK ‘just in case we have to leave’.”

I imagine the feeling in the rest of “civilized” Europe is, if anything, more widespread.

Should this general unease turn to panic (rational or irrational), Jews will be down to, at most, a few destinations: Israel, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, and here.

The tweet, and Mr. Jacobson’s column, brought to mind a memory.

About twenty years ago, Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers’ baseball star of the 1930s and 40s (despite missing three years serving in WWII, he led the American League in home runs and RBIs four times apiece), was the subject of a good documentary which made the rounds of the art-house circuit.

There was a theater in Tallahassee (now long gone, alas) which showed offbeat movies, so I had a chance to see it on the big screen. The nominal narrative thread was Greenberg’s 1938 pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record (60, set in 1927–Greenberg’s attempt, which came up two short, perhaps because umpires wishing, for especially unsavory reasons, to preserve Ruth’s record, squeezed the strike zone on him in the season’s final weeks, was the last real run at it until Roger Maris broke the record in 1961).

But the movie’s real reason for being was to showcase Greenberg’s struggles–and triumphs–as the first great Jewish-American baseball star.

I saw it with a close friend. When we were walking out, she asked if I had ever heard of Hank Greenberg before (she hadn’t). I had been a baseball stat freak in my youth so, yes, I had heard of him.

“I never knew he was Jewish, though,” I added.

“Seriously?” she said. “Greenberg?”

“Sorry,” I said. “I wasn’t raised to pay attention to people’s names.”

It’s true. I wasn’t.

She still found my ignorance a little hard to believe, so, for proof, I gave her another, better, example.

My first eight years of public school, in any class where seats were assigned alphabetically (which was most of them), I was always seated next to a girl whose last name was Roth. She was quiet, soft-spoken, studious, got exceptional grades. Her best friends were other girls–not always as soft-spoken–who also got exceptional grades. But even among them, she was counted elite. Not just by girls. The same boys (who also got exceptional grades–their fathers were doctors, lawyers, NASA engineers) who were awed by my ability to recite the batting and home run champions for every year the National and American Leagues had been in existence, were even more in awe of her–every single day.

I moved after the eighth grade and it was only years later, after I saw the Godfather movies (one of which featured a Jewish gangster named Hyman Roth) and read a novel called Goodbye, Columbus, a plainly autobiographical story by an author named Philip Roth, that I realized it was just possible the girl I sat next to all those years was also Jewish.

To this day, I don’t know it for sure. It just seems a pretty safe assumption.

Had I known it then, I wouldn’t have thought anything about it.

Except to note it as an interesting anecdote about my childhood (that I probably sat next to a Jewish girl in school without having any clue she was Jewish), I don’t think anything about it now.

Like I told my friend: I wasn’t raised to pay attention to people’s names.

Assuming she was Jewish, though, my knowing it would have made one possible difference.

It would have meant that, if she was ever attacked or insulted for her Jewishness (or any other quality that left her in a lonely minority), it would have been my duty to come to her defense.

Whether I would have had the courage to do so–or the wit or strength to do so effectively–there is no way of knowing. Of all our motley public school crew, I may have been the only person less likely than she was to speak without being spoken to, to break my own public persona and assert myself in a circumstance where all of us–not just the studious ones–were expected to be quiet.

Had I acted according to my conscience, it would have been a supreme act of the will.

Instinct and my nature would have played no part.

My instinct–then as now–was to stay in the shadows, and observe.

As it happens, it never came to that. If the girl I sat next to in the deep South of the 1960s and 70s was ever made uncomfortable for having a Jewish name–and I don’t say she wasn’t–I wasn’t aware of it.

But if it had come to pass that she was insulted for being Jewish, and I knew it and failed to defend her, I would have been both keenly aware of my failure and ashamed of it. I would have known I needed to ask forgiveness for the sin of forgoing my faith in a testing hour.

I was raised to pay no attention to people’s names. and I was raised to ask, of my own volition, without prompting by ritual, for forgiveness of my sins–all sins, conscious (as this would have been) and unconscious–from the God of my faith.

And to seek to redress the consequences of those sins where possible. That would have included apologizing to Miss Roth and making my future willingness to stand by her side known to any possible tormentors.

Else living with immense guilt and a moral assurance that I was a coward.

It was a hard school, my faith.

It still is.

These days, it is most often called Evangelical Christianity. How it came to be called that in common parlance (when we never used the term ourselves in any church I attended growing up), and then came to be mingled with, and deliberately mistaken for, any number of other things–including, most ridiculously, the Shadow Force that runs the Republican party–is a subject for another day.

I will only say for now that, having known literally thousands of my fellow “evangelicals,” and having been made familiar with their carefully deliberated core beliefs in the most stringent intellectual and moral circumstances (among other things, my father attended a bible college when I was in high school–that was the reason we left the place where I had sat next to Miss Roth in school all those years), I have always found it amusing to note the tendency of the great thinkers of the age to mock us for our unwavering support of Israel one minute and accuse us of the rankest anti-Semitism the next.

That, too, is a story for another day.

Don’t worry. If I live long enough, I’ll get to all of it sooner or later.

These days, however, reading stories like Mr. Jacobsen’s, I find it all a bit less amusing, a bit more alarming.

Well aware as I am of my tribe’s actual sins–more aware than any without it, and most within it I assure you–I take cold comfort in knowing that, of all the tribes who might produce a person likely to spit on a Jew, in modern England or anywhere else, none is as unlikely as mine.

But, as we are all forced to contemplate the next run for the shadows–as Evangelicals themselves begin wondering, not without some justification, whether we’ll be left standing when the world is through with accusing us of being the secret cabal that runs everything and thirsts for the Apocalypse (supposed to be the real reason we support Israel, for instance)–I still haven’t forgotten my tribe’s most valuable lesson, one I’d have learned from no other that operated in my world, not even Miss Roth’s or Mr. Jacobson’s, concerned, as they must be, with their own interests and their own survival:

When you raise your children in the way they should go, teach them to pay no attention to people’s names.

And, like those who are not afforded this luxury, be ready to depart for some other land–or the next life–at a moment’s notice.

DEFINING THE AGE…

By all means read the whole thing here, but I really want to call your attention to this one phrase:

Until the rise of high-tech companies in the 1980s, there were, for better or worse, certain understood rules that governed the behavior of large corporations.

It’s remarkable how often I encounter some version of this straight across the political spectrum (here, moderate right).

“Until the 1980s” is routinely followed by some language that translates, across a sentence or a page, as: And then there was unmitigated disaster, the consequences of which are with us still.

Yep. Until the 1980s.

And then?

And then-n-n–n?

GOODBYE TO 2017….

Interesting year. No idea what lies ahead….But.

Like a lot of people, I took a real hit from Google changing their search parameters (or whatever it is they do) in June. Up to that point, this blog had steady quarter-by-quarter growth for five years. In the last six months of 2017, views and visits dropped off about 25 percent, making this the first year I didn’t improve over the previous one (I was down about eight percent for the year).

On the other hand, the comments increased dramatically, so I traded some quantity for a lot of quality. That’s a deal I’ll take any day, though I hope things will get cracking in the new year so it’s not a choice I have to make!

Anyway, that’s one of the main reasons I slacked off considerably in December, hoping to recharge the batteries and hit the ground running in 2018.

The other reason is I ran up against a sort of existential spiritual dilemma (I hesitate to call it a crisis) which is going to require me to make some serious decisions about my personal life and goals in the next few months…Don’t worry, if anything major happens, I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it!

Meanwhile, here are posts I have in the hopper, just waiting a moment of inspiration for me to finish them…

-A continuation of my meditations on John Ford’s People (beginning with the latest on The Searchers)

-Vocalist of the Month features on Brenda Lee (pretty far along) and Sandy Denny (nascent but promising)

-The revelation of My Favorite Book of Movie Criticism

-A new category called Track-By-Track where I break down some classic albums with what I hope will be a fresh approach to record reviewing.

-Nothing specific, but I’ll step in on the Trump Era when a moment of clarity arrives. Just FYI, my gut had him a slight favorite to win the election throughout 2016 (which put my gut in a very small minority). My gut has him a slight favorite to emerge the winner in his war with the Security State which will almost certainly come to a head in 2018. Stay tuned….

-Plus a continuation of my other new category of Handy Tens and all the other usual ongoing features.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna keep listening to Gene…

and Eddie…

And hoping for good things in a Happy New Year!

THOUGHTS ON VERNON, FLORIDA….

The movie, yes, but also the town.

Vernon, Florida (1981)
D. Errol Morris

1) Morris was initially attracted to the tiny Panhandle town of Vernon by its reputation as Nub City, a place famous for amputees who shot off (or otherwise removed) various limbs to collect on large insurance payments. Not sure if this is any way related to the vigilance required to prove the identity of dead bodies missing their hands in Winter’s Bone but it wouldn’t surprise me.

2) I tracked it down because I’m planning a post on Florida movies. This looked like a possible winner and was available for a couple of bucks on Amazon. The rest of this list is dedicated to the reasons it probably won’t make the cut.

3) In Errol Morris’s Vernon, Florida, there are no black people. Not even in background shots. That must mean Tony Peters, the kid with the wicked slider who kept striking me out in Pony League in the spring of ’75–and who, a couple of years later, led mostly black teams, filled with his brothers and cousins, from Vernon High to state championships in baseball and basketball–was a figment of my imagination. I mention it because, absent him, my very good batting average (.426) would have been considerably higher. Even higher than the .550 I was hitting before a stupid bet in the one-county-over Graceville High School weight-lifting room threw out my back and left me swinging with one hand for the last half of the season. (I won the bet. Small comfort.) I’m sure the fear that southern black people might seem as incomprehensibly “eccentric” as southern white people had nothing to do with any of this.

4) The film presents half a dozen implied stories, each of them worth it’s own narrative, and follows exactly none of them to a satisfying conclusion. I’d of gone with the adventures of the young pastor myself. In life, he must have had to contend with the old coots who know what the Bible really means in a thousand interesting and delicate ways. In the film, he never even meets them. And there’s some pretty good rants from those coots here, but nothing close to the End Times testimonial sermon I heard an old-timer in overalls preach from the second row pew of one-county-over White Pond Baptist in 1979 while all ten of us in attendance (including my father in the pulpit, my mother at the piano, me and seven members of the old man’s family) listened rapt. Dad was interim pastor there for a year. That was the only time the old man showed up. After the service, his daughter-in-law explained it to us, half-apologetic, half matter-of-fact: “Grandpa does that sometimes.” Nothing like that here.

5) Wausau, which is a suburb of Vernon, is mentioned once. Any filmmaker who spent enough time in southern Washington County to make a documentary and didn’t work in a story about the baseball field in Wausau–where it was theoretically possible to hit a home run over the eight-foot high left field fence without the ball ever travelling more than a foot off the ground–just ain’t worth his salt.

6) I’d forgive all that if Morris had caught the special feel of the North Florida woods where he keeps stalking a turkey hunter. My father walked away from his stalled car in December of 2007 in the heart of those very same south Washington County woods. Hunters found him three days later, passed out on the ground (a day after I had discovered him missing from his apartment and convinced the local police to put out an APB on him). He was transported to the Washington County Hospital and, two days later, to the nursing home next door. He died there eight months later, never having walked again.  I’d give a lot to have the feel of the last place my father walked on this earth captured on film. The way Morris shot Vernon, Florida those woods could just as well be in Mississippi….or Pennsylvania.

Or the Tennessee Smokies where Dad grew up. And where he thought he was when he left his stalled care and tried to find his way home.

None of that here.

Disappointing really.

MY TWO CENTS…

On the G-20 summit.

First, ignore the AP reports (or CNN, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah).

A month from now, they’ll be as credible as last month’s “all 17 American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked the election” stories.

Today’s official stories, too, will soon be “clarified.”

My sense is that, in the last two weeks, the Trump Fever broke. On the evening of the day he punked the G-20 summit that was the latest in a long line of Security State backstops which, assuming the key operatives (in this case various heads of state) could get the stars out of their eyes and quit staring at Ivanka’s ass or keep their knees from buckling when Melania flashed that fragile smile, were supposed to humiliate him beyond all hope of recovery, it became pretty clear that–barring some drastic, pyrrhic action like an assassination–he’ll now march from victory to victory.

You know, just like he’s been doing since June, 2015. Back when “the Republican Establishment” was going to put paid to him–by driving him not only from political life, but society itself…remember?–in the impossible event he became a problem.

Oh. there will be speed bumps along the way, and, just like the obstacles now fading in the rear view mirror (faster and faster, I might add), they’ll be celebrated as mortal wounds by whatever’s left of that creaky old Establishment (and breathlessly Re-Tweeted by those who are still certain–certain I say!–that this time, we’ve got him).

Those who put their faith in such folks, needn’t worry. There’s probably a month or two of real entertainment value left before your champions do what they were always going to do and kick you to the curb, the better to curry favor with the new boss.

My puny, unsolicited advice is to kick them out of the tent before they get the chance.

Why let them co-opt you one last time and destroy even your one-in-a-million hope of igniting a grass roots movement with real teeth in it? The fake ones you’ve been relying on aren’t getting it done. If you’re looking for a leader to emerge from the current crop, you’re trading in fool’s gold. (To wit, there’s real talk Bernie Sanders will carry the flag in 2020. God help us. But, believe me, Kamala Harris won’t be any less chumped and compromised by then, even if you buy the sketchy assumption that she is now.)

As we sit here tonight, Trump has a conservative majority entrenched on the Supreme Court, with more to come. His trial-balloon travel ban (sorry, did you think it was something else?), is now, with a few negotiating ploy caveats, in place. Contracts for the border wall are proceeding apace. The regulatory wall, built from used tissue by the Bi-partisan Consensus over the last thirty-five years for the express purpose of enriching themselves at everybody’s-but-their-own expense, is being torn to shreds. He’s tied the “Russian thing” tin can to Obama’s tail, and, by extension, Hillary Clinton’s. (Rhetorically, conspiratorially, theatrically, that is–i.e., the ways that matter in a land where concepts like the Rule of Law were reduced to laughless-punchlines by the very folks who now insist they are Never Trumpers long before Forever Donald Trump happened along.)

And, oh by the way, while you weren’t looking, the Alt-Right has seized the language and the messaging.

And oh by the way….

They view Trump as a loss leader.

Albeit in blind-squirrel fashion, Kathy Griffin–one of many useful-idiot celebrities whose brains apparently function as test patterns–had it right.

If Trump’s head isn’t on a platter by the end of the summer, there’s gonna be some deep and lasting changes around here–and perhaps more than a few.

Up to now, the main question since election night has been whether Trump understood that he was in a war with the Security State that would end in his utter defeat or theirs.

Tonight, for the first time, the question has changed.

Do they understand?

Bet they do…

Which means it must finally be time for Trump to ditch “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and keep what’s left of his opposition really confused, by switching up his theme song…

Or would be, if playing in a rock and roll band was still masquerading as something more than a chance to meet the kind of fabulous women Donald J. Trump and Michael Jagger are prone to marrying.

It’s not that Trump is a genius (he sort of is, but it’s not that). It’s that he’s opposed–up and down the line–by idiots.

Idiots who have had their masks ripped off….and their Consensus destroyed.

It took two years.

Or fifty.

So, as ever….Goodbye us.

But really, it was fun while it lasted.

C’mon Mick…Are you sure you don’t want to play the Ballroom in 2021?

[Note: Yes, I know. There were protests. To call them meaningless would be to debase the word. Somebody cue “American Woman” and dedicate it to Angela Merkel.]

ON THE ROAD WITH VAN MORRISON AND OTHERS…INCLUDING MOST ESPECIALLY ME, MYSELF AND I

Van Morrison
It’s Too Late to Stop Now (1973)

So I go on the road, I drive, I get to listen close…Six hours to the airport (where I fly nonstop to North Dakota so I still save a few hours in the end by avoiding layovers).

The plane leaves at 7:00 a.m. so I leave the house before midnight.

On the way down, I listen to The Basement Tapes (which I’ve just got cranking when the local constabulary pulls me to tell me my tag light’s out, thank you very much!), Timi Yuro’s Complete Liberty Singles (worthy of its own post…how do we so easily forget Timi Yuro?), The Trouble With the Truth (one of several Patty Loveless albums I’m always convinced is her very best whenever I’m listening to it) and close with the real killer, Don Gibson’s A Legend in My Time (a superbly chosen Bear Family disc from his classic period), which I never have time to really focus on when I’m at home.

Twelve days later, I return in the rain. It’s one of those Florida rains which I know is not worth waiting out (for one thing, I’ll be asleep in the airport by then…it’s been a lo-n-n-n-n-g-g-g twelve days). So I hike to my car in the rain (it’s one of those ariports where, if you’ve parked a car, it’s a hike), get my shirt soaking wet, decide I might as well wait until I stop for gas to change it (by which time it will be dry enough not to bother….no matter how often I fly from this airport, I always forget how far it is to a gas station…or food!). Don Gibson is still in the CD player, so I listen again….

…and it’s still awe-inspiring. There’s nothing quite like hearing an hour’s worth of Don Gibson while you’re driving in a welcome-back-to-Florida rain.

And then, to tell the truth, I pull Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late to Stop Now for no better reason than because it’s sitting on top of the stack.

I only threw it in the box because I’ve had my new CD version sitting around the house for months, meaning to give it the listen I never quite gave it when I bought it cheap and used on vinyl twenty years back.That’s another thing driving trips are good for–catching up on stuff you don’t have proper time for when your life is gathered around you at home, where dishes need to be washed, the blog needs keeping up, the paycheck has to be earned, the book wants a polish.

Starts off fine. I have the usual reaction I have when I haven’t listened to Van in a while. He’s great, but nobody could be as great as Van is when I’m only listening in my mind, so I’m soon wondering if he’s merely great, and maybe not, you know, transcendent.

That’ gets me all the way to this…the ninth track on the first disc…

…and about halfway through it, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I  start thinking, no, it’s not possible to overestimate Van Morrison, even when he’s just being the crowd-pleaser his legend suggests he could never just be.

Of course, it could be that this is just the first song I know well enough to sing along–which means I can start edging towards ecstasy, especially if I’m driving along in the the still steady drizzling welcome-back-to-Florida rain.

Then he switches to Muddy Waters…

…and gets inside him, sneaky little bastard. Muddy Waters as lounge music that’s deeper and fleeter than the original and which, since I haven’t quite comprehended whether this first disc is supposed the be the entire original album (it’s not), may be closing the original concept down. It feels like it could do that. Driving along in the rain, it feels like it could close down the World…or the State of Florida at least.

But it’s just a set up. I’ve got the second disc cued up and, though I can’t tell if it’s bonus material or not (it isn’t), it doesn’t matter, because he jumps straight into Sam Cooke, who knew a thing or two about Vegas-ing the Blues himself. No more than Van, certainly…

…but maybe no  less. Either way, Van’s off into the mystic so to speak, because he jumps from there to “St. Dominic’s Preview,” which it takes me a while to recognize, by which time my mind has split in two and I’m doing some sort of mental dissertation on White Boys diving into the Blues and hearing snatches of Mick Jagger’s negotiations with Satan, circa 1974, about the time Satan started cashing Mick’s checks and draining his bank account and while most of the conversation drifted by, what with the rain and the Yes-Sir-Van-is-All-That singing going on, it did keep my mind running in Fake Stereo for fifteen minutes or so while Van got all the way to end of his personal Magnum Opus, “Listen to the Lion” which can never be added to on stage because he took the recorded version as far as anything can be taken.

And I figured that was probably that.

The rain had stopped by then. The sun was coming out, and Van went straight back into his crowd-pleasingist, crowd-pleasing mode, and we all know what that means….Time for a little THEM…

Starting with this…

which makes me wonder if he’s trying to steal it back from Lulu…

…who stole it from him in the Them days (she got it out first, they had the big hit, and somewhere deep down inside I think, listening to It’s Too Late to Stop Now, Van knows she found something to be afraid of in the night he was busy owning it…and still trying to own all those years later).

After which, of course, it’s on to the one he’ll never get away from…and which no one will ever beat him on…or find anything in that he didn’t find the first time…

And you’d think this would bring my poor ragged mind back to a single track, especially since I’m clapping, driving and singing at the same time.

Hey, don’t worry, no more rain, no problem. I’m VERY experienced at this.

But while I’m doing that, I also start conducting an (imaginary–I ain’t crazy you know) interview with Jimmy Page, where I ask if he minds focusing on his early session-man days (among which a number of Them tracks, and Lulu’s version of “Here Comes the Night” are rumored to be highlights…or maybe it isn’t rumored anymore and it’s either been confirmed or debunked by now, but in my mind I’m assuming young James did indeed play on some Them sessions and Lulu sessions, and he doesn’t seem to want to shatter any illusions).

But, instead of asking him about Van Morrison and Them, or even Lulu, I find myself asking if this was as much fun as it sounds like…

….and his imaginary face lights up for the first time, loses it’s professional cool. “Tried to throw her off with that discordant bit in the bridge,” he says. “Silly me…Gave me some ideas for later though.”

Wow. Heavy.

I might have pursued the conversation further…I WOULD have pursued it further. Nothing could have kept me from it.

Except maybe this.

The sun was shining bright by then. I was somewhere near Ocala. Still three hours from home, but the past is behind me and Van Morrison is speaking in tongues.

I’m whole again. My mind’s all put back together.

Welcome home.

MEET THE HOST….

Commenter abqchris expressed an interest in some of my autobiographical links. Since I seem to have picked up a new round of viewers the past few months and multiple links don’t always work from the comments section I thought it might be a good idea to just collect them in a post. Once or twice a year I’ve opened myself up a bit on here. These are the longish posts where I’ve gotten the most “personal.”

Me and the Shangri-Las (also the blog’s inaugural post)…

Me and Elvis

Me and Patty Loveless…

Me and “Then Came You”

Me and Alex Chilton…

Me and Brian Wilson…

Me and “(He’s) The Great Imposter”…

Me and my Favorite Rock Critic…

And, for good measure, the post that probably comes closest to explaining my World View….

Here’s hoping some of my experiences will resonate with some of yours.

And, please, take your time. Five years go by and all of a sudden it adds up to a damn book!

ELEGY REVISITED IN ANOTHER COUNTRY CHURCHYARD….

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

(Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”)

Virgil Caine is my name and I served on the Danville train,
‘Til Stoneman’s Cavalry came and tore up the tracks again…

(The Band, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”)

I’ve mentioned before that I drive a hundred miles each way to put flowers on my mother’s grave every Mother’s Day. My parents are the only appointed missionaries buried at the oldest Baptist church in Florida (est. 1825). Every year, I walk around to see who has died. Every year, one or two familiar names are added (usually wives joining husbands long passed). Every year, I note the military ranks of many of the departed. It’s a small church with a small graveyard so the military mentions toward the middle and back of the cemetery are a smattering.

Korea (my Sunday School teacher, he never mentioned it).

WWII (the man who loaned us money to travel home to see family the first Christmas we moved there, he never mentioned it…this year, he was joined by his daughter, a college teacher who wrote the letter of recommendation that helped me get a job at the Southern Baptist Convention’s center in Ridgecrest, North Carolina in the summer of ’79….else her husband…the grave was fresh dug, no stone yet).

WWI. (too far back for me to know them personally though the names suggest I knew their heirs).

At the front, the names are somewhat more numerous. Up in that part of the churchyard, the military designation is always CSA. Some of them died in what they would have called The War Between the States, some after. Whenever they died, an alarming number bear birth dates of 1848, 1849, 1850. By the end, the CSA was calling up fifteen-year-olds.

That’s what happens at the end, when your life is at stake.

I never had much sympathy for the Lost Cause or Ye Olde Confederacy. A permanent curse on the slaveocracy who cast their permanent curse on us. As much as I know anything, I know if we’d somehow managed to win, we’d have been the Balkans and the USA would have been some hellish combination of Germany and Russia. Best that it worked out as it did.

But I don’t like to run from the past either.

If I’d been born in 1849, I know where my bones would lie…and I don’t doubt the military designation on my grave would read CSA. If not in this churchyard, then some other, because I doubt there’s a vintage cemetery in the parts of the South where my folks came from that doesn’t have an even longer row of the Lost Cause’s Honored Dead.

Hell, by the time Stoneman’s Cavalry rode their last, ” just eighteen”  was an old man in the army of the CSA.

And it’s not like I have to project.

When Stonewall Jackson’s West Point roommate, George Stoneman, rode out to exact the final vengeance for his humiliation at Chancellorsville (the high tide of both the Confederate States of America and his roommate’s brilliant career, which ebbed away in an instant when a unit from my mother’s home state mistook Jackson for the enemy in the gloaming and mortally wounded him), he left from Knoxville, Tennessee, twenty miles from my father’s stone-cold Unionist home town (where the college my father had not quite graduated from when Pearl Harbor re-directed his life down a path that eventually led him to the bible college that sits seven miles from where my parents are buried, was founded by one of the South’s now forgotten fire-breathing abolitionists and where my father’s older relatives nonetheless had living memories of chasing cows into the woods to keep the Yankees from confiscating them), and reached its turn-back point in Salisbury, North Carolina, where my mother grew up learning to hop trains in the hobo jungle in the days when the legends of Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie were still aborning.

From this distance, I can be glad the Yankees won, even in this age when we seem so determined to throw it all away.

But when I’m walking through a country churchyard down here, mulling the gravestones, there’s no way for it not to be a little bit personal.

Even from this distance.

This month is the thirtieth anniversary of my mother’s death. But you know what Faulkner said. In the South, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And, as he did not quite say: “Would that it were.”

Rest of ya’ll will know what we know soon enough. I give it not more than a century and it will pass in the blink of an eye. Then you won’t care if the money’s no good either.

Enjoy this hard and bitterly won space while you can.