Friday, September 29, 2017

Calling to Catch Up

I called my aunt just to say hello and catch up. We talked about the weather and then about my 102 year old great aunt not-so-shockingly being in the hospital again and then about my uncle preparing for the unfortunate colonoscopy he's having tomorrow - and if you have had one, you understand "preparing." These are all common topics when talking to my family back home in rural South Georgia. 

After the updates, she asked what I was doing. I told her I was in a 4 day, all day writing workshop, so not much detail to report. When I asked what else was new before hanging up the phone, and she casually said "well, you know, I called your Mama yesterday." (This was unusual bcs they generally don't talk just for nothing - these two need to actually have something practical to do, to organize or to answer or else they just visit in person. Yesterday was an answer problem.) 

"I just wanted to know where Scott's leg is buried." 

"Unh-huh," was all I could muster.

(Scott is my uncle - she said so without the "uncle" part bcs he's the youngest of 9 and as the oldest of 34 grandchildren "Uncle Scott" and I are only 3 or 4 years apart.)

I gathered myself. "What do you mean: where is his leg buried? They buried it? And, is he looking for it? I ..."

 She stopped me. "Yes, they buried his leg, and no, he's not looking for it. I am. When Daddy died, there were all these confusions about burial plots. Uncle AT's plot was four but because he died so early, they just moved him over there with Muddy Bess, and then when Uncle Randy died, they moved him out of his plots bcs nobody else had died and they didn't want to disturb that area." 



"Ok - but what does that have to do with Scott's leg?" I asked.

"Well, I only have so many spaces left for the family. Kate wanted to make sure there was space for her family." 

"She's 28." I protested. 

"I get that, AND, somebody's got to plan for where to fit everybody." 

"Well I"m being cremated." 

"Yes, I know, and so are Uncle Murray and I - but we still want a marker, and I want you to have one if you want it." 

"So, you want to know... wait, what's this got to do with Scott?" I asked again.

"I'd heard Rooster buried the leg, but nobody would confirm it much less tell me where it was... It turns out your Mama and Uncle Jim knew Rooster had it buried, but neither of them knows WHERE she buried it - only that it was in the allotted family acreage." 

"Ok, so what are you gonna do?"

"The preacher is going by to pick up the old retired care taker and bring him around - gonna see if he might remember where it is. We figure he's the most likely one to have done the actual burying." Aunt Deanie answered - almost exasperated - as if this were the only and perfectly logical solution.

"So she just stuck it in the ground - like planting a seed or something? No ceremony? No marker? Nothing?"

"I guess not. I just don't want to bury somebody on top of it - or worse have it appear in the dirt pile at a graveside service."

"Unh-huh."

"Ok. Well, I'm gonna finish up lunch for Uncle Murray. We love you!"

"I love y'all. Bye, Aunt Deanie."


It was just a regular, normal, routine call to catch up...

Roping the bear


While working as a wrangler on a 137,000 acre Northern New Mexico ranch (you know, the typical I-don’t-know-what-in-the-hell-to-do-with-my-life phase) my first ranch station was at Clark’s Fork where it was me and four boys in a barn. We took care of the 30+ head of horses there in addition to whatever cattle was there at the time. (Cattle were moved from pasture to pasture throughout the ranch much more often than the horses or burros.) We also repaired fences, did minor veterinary procedures, re-shod horses when needed and even gave dude rides to backpacking and/or camping groups in the area – almost always Boy Scout Troops.

This area of New Mexico was flush with Black Bears. Occasionally we’d have to scare one away from trying to break into our grain bin or reroute a job through the woods, but really the bears mostly wanted to avoid us. A sentiment we wranglers shared with the bears although over the years the bears had gotten more and more comfortable with human "things."




One lazy, sunny day in June, though, the boys changed their minds. We were all cleaning tack or whittling or grooming our personal horses in front of the barn when a bear neared one of our corrals which fortunately were empty since it was late afternoon – being in the middle of frightened, trapped horses has always been a bad plan.

I reckon that bear had gotten into the boys’ whiskey stash in the creek bed. The bear stunk and the whiskey bottle was all busted to pieces. The boys and their collective thinking… all it took was for one of them to turn off their brain, and the others jumped on the absurd idea of “roping the bear.”

“I’m gonna get that bear,” Mike said.

“Yeh!” “Yeah – let’s get him!” The other boys all pitched in various shouts of support. Before I knew it, all four of ‘em had mounted up and were chasing that bear. Even in the thick woods, the brainless boys were swirling their lassos overhead.

Calmly, methodically, I mounted my horse Questa, the fastest mustang (wild horse) in New Mexico. Questa and I caught up to the boys easily. They had surrounded a very angry 6+ foot tall… 200+ pound… Black… Bear.




As the bear roared to standing full height and arms stretched out, Questa and I eased up behind a couple of the guys and said, “Boys… I’ve just got one question for y’all.”

“What?” “We’re busy!” “We got him!” These were the responses shouted in my direction.

“Well,” I said. “What exactly do y’all plan to do with that big ol’ angry bear once y’all rope it?”

Silence.

Then the lassos began to go limp, and the bear went back to all fours as the boys withdrew their horses. As they cleared out from around it, the bear slowly and cautiously headed back into the forest. We, too, turned around and slowly made our way back to the barn in silence – that is, until the last clearing before the barn. That's when I heard Big Mike mutter, "Well, I coulda had him."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Football and French Teachers

     Due to tight budgets, high schoolers across America are subjected to athletic coaches being distributed amongst the real teachers. Often, these coaches end up “teaching” easy and/or undesirable subjects like social studies - or in the case of the Anglo-centric South, foreign languages. One of my favorite high school memories is of a particular day in French class. I don’t know what possessed me to take French over Spanish, but that’s what I did - probably the most interesting thing about this class was that it was taught by the head football coach.
     Coach Lowe was a very typical coach-teacher: Mondays were spent analyzing our team’s successes or failures the previous Friday night; Tuesday through Thursday was handled by distributing worksheets to be completed open-book style in class; and Friday was blown off entirely in anticipation of that night’s game. We also had some Tuesdays off – sometimes for our school-wide assemblies and sometimes because the Coach had to go to his Rotary Club meeting.
     One day, though, Coach Lowe decided to take a rare spin around the blackboard – planning, in fact, to actually teach a little French. Before entering the classroom he was distracted by some assistant coach in the hallway, and we wisely used this time to write all over the board and then throw the erasers into the prickly bushes outside the classroom. Returning to the class he quickly discovered the problem and went out to procure an eraser. By the time he came back, we had also disposed of all the writing instruments for the board. Quite confused but not yet defeated, he left again to remedy the situation. Feeling the need to ramp up the disturbance, we began removing desks and chairs from the classroom and hiding them along the outer wall of the school. This time when he returned, we had students with no seats for his eagerly anticipated teaching lesson. Frustrated, he grabbed a handful of his football players (oh, yes, excellent French students – no coincidence they were in the coach’s class) to obtain desks from an unoccupied classroom. Miraculously, when the new desks were brought in, we were still short about the same number of desks. Baffled, the entourage went on a second mission to transfer desks into our classroom only to discover the same shortage on their return. Now at this point, the Coach realized two things: 1) there were only 8 minutes of class remaining and 2) the previous teacher had really left that classroom a mess and needed a stern talking-to.

     To the uninitiated, there’s just no adequate way to describe a Southerner’s obsession with the sport of football. For so many of us, it is the first sport we learn – probably tossing a football before throwing a baseball. It’s the way of life.
     The entire year revolves around football: in the spring, we gather players and formulate strategies for the available personnel. In the summer we begin our grueling two-a-day workouts leading up to the start of the season. Joyously we know that fall has arrived because football is being played. We pore over statistics and injuries and records and opponents. We faithfully attend every game we possibly can and watch those we can’t. Birthdays, anniversaries even funerals must be planned around the football schedule. When the all mighty farm gods require we harvest during the football season, all attempts are made to break for the game, and if that is impossible, we play that home-team, Larry-Munson-style radio broadcast while on the tractor or combine. As winter arrives, we rabidly root for the highest prize possible – that state championship, the national championship, the super bowl championship. If by some cruel misfortune our home team is out of the mix, we diligently play basketball and baseball and track through winter and spring to keep us in shape for football season. We will continue year round to analyze our school, your school, the rules, the system, the possibilities…
     During the football season, every day of the week revolves around football. On Monday we are discussing the results of the weekend and if players, sharpening our skill for next weekend. On Tuesday we are evaluating where we stand and where our college and professional teams stand. On Wednesday as we continue to prepare – judging the weekend’s matchups to either play or cheer or adjust our fantasy picks – we are looking ever more closely at our opponents’ tactics. Thursday puts the finishing touches on all our adjustments for the upcoming game(s). Friday is game day in our hometowns. With no movie theaters or dance clubs to compete with, our rural communities attend the Friday Night Lights as if that game was the resurrection of Jesus Himself. By Saturday we are caravanning to our college game where 100,000 other die-hard fans cram with us into our massive Southern football stadiums in support of our team. Sundays we are glued to our televisions rooting for all those homegrown heroes who made it to the big leagues, and when Monday comes around…  we do it all over again.




Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Three Wise Men

        After college I took a temporary job as a wrangler on a 137,000 acre ranch in northern New Mexico. My first duty station was in a remote location – It was me and five boys in a barn. We had no electricity and no running water – just an outhouse and a rainwater shower.
On occasion, we would ride our horses bareback down to the little road to the little town (population: 800) and leave them in the little field while we went to the saloon. Nestled in the historic St James Hotel, there was an old saloon where the likes of Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody, Jesse James and Black Jack Ketchum rested their heads – and shot up the ceiling in a few places. It was a great treat to go to town since we had no real entertainment out there in the woods – just us, thirty to fifty horses and some cattle.
Once we got to the lower field, we took the reins off our horses, threw ‘em over our shoulders and set out on foot. We were all dressed pretty much the same in short-sleeved button-down shirts, blue jeans and cowboy boots – plus or minus chaps. This was standard wear in Cimarron, and we fit in seamlessly as we strolled the half a mile or so to the hotel where it sat – and still sits – on the edge of town. There we’d spend a couple of hours imbibing, playing pool and telling tales.
The very first time we entered the saloon, I pulled the bartender aside. She was a skinny thing, probably in her thirties. She was definitely a local – knowing her way around those parts and around all those cowboys, too.
“Ma'am, you see those boys?” She glanced over at the boys – all Texans – and nodded her head. “I’m out at camp with them.” I stopped there and looked at her. She met my eyes. “Me. And them.”
Her eyes got wider. “You’re the only girl? Out there with all those guys?”
“That’s right.” I answered.
“Sounds dangerous.”
“They’re a good bunch of boys – protective of me, actually. However… I do not intend to get intoxicated and return to a barn full of boys.”
“I see.” She said.
“Here’s a contribution to your tip fund.” I handed her a twenty dollar bill. “I’d appreciate it if you’d help me out.”
She took the money from me and said, “Darlin’, don’t you worry about a thing.”
From then on we had a regular agreement. Whenever she came around to collect empty beer bottles and bring another round to our rowdy crew, she picked up my full beer and gave me a new one. Whenever the boys ordered shots, she gave me a virgin one.
Occasionally, one of the boys was chatting her up, and she had to give me a liquor shot with the boys. They were most fond of ordering “The Three Wise Men” – Jack, Jim, and Jose. I wanted no part of those wise men, thank you very much. The bartender would give me a little sign or just stare at me really hard when she’d had to pour me a real one. Then, when we made our toast, I’d lift my drink and throw my head back just like the boys – only I’d throw my shot over my shoulder and onto the floor. Usually they were too drunk to notice, and the bartender just discreetly cleaned it up as we moved back over to pool table and our bar stools. On the off chance they did notice, we’d all just laugh it up that I was too drunk and had missed my mouth.
After the boys got good and sloshed, we’d headed back up the road – the distance not long enough to sober ‘em up before we reached the horses. This field, while smaller than most we had, was still an acre or two. We had to catch our horses in there. Generally, my palomino gelding Questa was usually fairly easy to catch – not easy to ride as he had a tendency to buck off riders he didn’t like. So, most nights I was sitting astride Questa before the boys had caught their horses.
Oh the scene of four or five boys weaving around drunk trying to catch a horse. Even worse was when one of ‘em tried to mount up. Sober as a saint, I’d watch as one managed his way up only to fall off on the other side or see one get halfway up only for the horse to run out from underneath him. Now that was entertainment.
Eventually, we would all be ready. Then we would ride the half hour or so in the dark back to the barn. The boys would pass out in their cots as I settled down in mine behind the particle board partition, snuggling in for dreams of five drunken cowboys and three wise men.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Walter Camp: The Father of American Football


Intercollegiate sports were chaotic in the 1800s. Many of the games played were relatively new, such as tennis and baseball. Colleges and universities were slowly beginning to fund athletic programs and to form conferences and leagues in which to compete against one another. Accordingly, this time period was marked by ongoing disputes over format and scoring, as well as, necessary rule changes to address the many deaths in the contact sports. 
The Northeastern schools - that would eventually become the Ivy League - were at the forefront of intercollegiate athletics during this time, and possibly the most contentious evolution of sport came as those universities slowly morphed rugby into gridiron football - American football. In particular, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia wanted to have more clearly defined rules of the rugby-style game they were playing against one another. To that end, they convened in 1876 to set some ground rules. 
At first this brand new Intercollegiate Football Association basically stuck to England's Rugby Union Code with some small changes like awarding some points for a touchdown - instead of only awarding points on the kick afterwards (at that time the object of the game was to score points by kicking a goal either after a touchdown or from the field during the course of play).  This version of rugby was generally 15 players a side on a 140 yard field, and back then Princeton dominated the half dozen or so schools that competed in the sport. It is in this setting that Walter Chauncey Camp entered Yale as an undergraduate in 1876. 
Camp was an all around athlete excelling in track and field events, baseball, tennis, and swimming. Not only was he rapidly added to the Yale football team at the position of halfback, but he quickly became captain and player-coach. His contemporaries and coaches considered him one of the premiere football players of that time. Beyond being a great player and having a keen mind for coaching, Camp was deeply invested in developing and defining the game. His innovations and ongoing impact on the sport earned him the title: Father of American Football. 
Even while he was still a player he was active in the Intercollegiate Football Association - at first as a representative of Yale and then continuing on as one of their members until his death in 1925. He began in the late 1870s lobbying to have the player number reduced to 11 per side, which he eventually saw adopted in 1880. He pressed for further changes in the 1880s most notably creating the scrimmage and the quarterback with one stroke.
As football followed the rugby leads, the ball changed possession rapidly and with little strategy most of the time. Frustrated by this, Camp invented the idea of the scrimmage. The possessing team would now start a "down" from the line of scrimmage. By controlling the possession and creating a scrimmage, the game not only slowed a little bit but also allowed for an entire new system of attack - and defense. As they moved from kicking the ball backwards from the line of scrimmage to handing the ball off behind the line to the increasingly important quarterback, strategies developed for how many players on the line, how many fullbacks or halfbacks and where to place them, and eventually even the evolution of the forward pass. (On this point, Walter Camp was originally opposed, but he did finally accept the forward pass.) 
Of course, the system of scrimmage and downs required great revision. Initially the new scrimmage rules allowed teams to effectively stall, holding the ball once they took the lead. This was boring for players and fans alike, and by 1882 they had devised the down system whereby possession would go to the opposing team if a certain mark - initially 5 yards, later changed to 10 yards - hadn't been reached in three (later changed to four) downs. This is when gridiron football was truly seen as lines marked off every five yards of the field. 
Also during the 1880s the Intercollegiate Football Association began tinkering with the scoring rules. In 1882 there was a strange system of 4 touchdowns equalling a goal (kick through the uprights) from the field and 2 safeties equalling one touchdown... It was messy. In 1883 Camp prompted the points be changed to: 5 for goal from the field; 4 for goal after touchdown; 2 for touchdown and 1 for safety. This was quickly revised months later to: 5 for goal from the field; 4 for touchdown; 2 for goal after a touchdown and 2 for safety. It wouldn't be until 1912 that our modern scoring system with 6 points for a touchdown was accepted.
Other significant changes occurred during the late 1800s. The field was shortened from 140 yards to 110, and it's width shrank from 70 yards to 53 1/3. The time of game was set to two 45 minute halves with a 15 minute break. The officials were actually paid (only one referee and one umpire per game back then), and they were authorized the use of whistles. Additionally Camp lobbied - successfully - to eliminate the flying wedge play that had been responsible for numerous deaths during games. 
Interestingly,  and possibly a contradictory change from a safety standpoint, in 1888 tackling below the waist was legalized. This actually created several changes to the game itself. Now the line of scrimmage pulled in - for it was necessary to form up a secure wall of protection for the quarterbacks, halfbacks and running backs from these brutal blows. This would actually clog up the game again until more forward passing began and thus open field running returned to the game.
Walter Camp was at the center of all these changes. Those he didn't directly create, he certainly contributed to nonetheless. Even while working as a businessman and establishing himself as a model citizen in his Connecticut hometown, he wrote hundreds of articles and over 25 books on sports and football. Camp was a lifelong member of the Intercollegiate Football Association and on its Rules Committee. He also aided the United States Armed Forces and gained notoriety with Walter Camp's Daily Dozen - a series of 12 exercises to be completed in 8-10 minutes each morning. 
Walter Camp, the Father of American Football, edited every American Football rule book published in his lifetime. He was well respected by all within the sport - from collegiate to the American Football Association to the National Football League. Camp has been credited with bringing "an almost mythical atmosphere of manliness and heroism to the game not previously known in American team sports." He continued his work perfecting the rules of football right up until his death, where at age 65 Walter Camp died of a heart attack while attending the 1925 meeting of the Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee.

Friday, April 11, 2014

THE DOUBLE-WIDE CAFE

Butch and Sissy’s Double Wide Café

Only in the Deep South will you find a popular restaurant with “double wide café” in the title. Indeed, there once was a comfort food place established in Atlanta, GA named Butch and Sissy’s Double Wide Café. While it’s long been closed down, I still have fond memories of my time there… and really funny ones, too. Let me start by putting things into context, drifting off the main story for a bit to explain how I came to work there…
When I graduated from college with my Bachelors in Biomolecular Science degree, I didn’t go directly to medical school. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even apply while I was a senior. Instead I spent almost 14 months doing other things – anything I could find.
My first adventure was working as a wrangler on a 137,500 acres ranch in northern New Mexico. (Rumor has it the land used to total 300,000 acres.) I’ve got excellent stories from those days that I’ll save for another post. After New Mexico, I moved to Atlanta. I applied to medical school and proceeded to work a wide variety of jobs while I waited to get in and then to start. I was a carpenter’s helper, gutting warehouses and turning them into condominiums. My resume could include demolition enthusiast, clean-up artist, stair-building master and sheet rock repairman. Early on it was clear that the construction job wasn’t gonna pay very much, so I started some side jobs. I was a theme park actor at Six Flags. For various movies, I stood in as an extra – or I took acting jobs in industrial films. I actually got paid quite well for doing a voice over for Home Depot. By the end of my time in Atlanta, my only job was as a lifeguard – truly a jack-of-all-trades.
Throughout the whole time there the longest job I had was as a waitress. I worked at two different restaurants. By far, Butch and Sissy’s Double Wide Café was the most hilarious. And, yes, I have witnesses to its existence – and uniqueness.
Down in Atlanta’s Five Points, there once was a restaurant plopped between a recycled clothing store, comic book/record store and a pharmacy. As years grew on, this restaurant went through many owners, many names and many types of cuisine. When I lived there, it was being converted from a pizza joint into a comfort food/Southern-style establishment.
Before I was even employed by Butch and Sissy’s, I helped out my friends with the renovations. I painted, moved equipment, renovated tables, etc. We didn’t have to paint walls, of course, because they were all true trailer park wood paneling… good stuff.  :~)  The kitchen was mostly set up from all the previous owners with burners, ovens, grills, warmers, stainless steel work spaces, and the essential Hobart (king of industrial dishwashers – what Otis is to elevators.) The most needed work was to upgrade the tables and hang paintings on the walls. They wanted to give the restaurant that certain flair.
To that end, we began with all of the tables. We took each one, sanded them down and an artistic friend painted them. We had one with Marilyn Monroe, one with a gorgeous horse, one with the ocean, etc. After she painted them, we coated them with a thick coat of shellac. Those were some hilarious nights – maybe because of the banter, maybe because of the fumes or maybe a combination of both. We would sit around for hours visiting afterwards if we had time. Other times we rushed off to softball or rugby games we were scheduled to play in that night.
As for those wall pictures… well, the owners started with the two kings: the king of rock and the King of soul. They mounted two velvet pictures – one of Elvis and one of Jesus. Additionally, just as you walked in the door, we hung an original painting. The artist friend painted a picture of a tornado with all of the employees’ heads sticking out of different portions of the storm. We were all portrayed caricature-style. It was so cute – from the skateboarder to the skinny girl to the bike rider to the constant baseball cap wearer (me). She was a great artist. Even strangers could pick us out from the painting.
After those weeks of decorating, they pretty much just opened the doors for business. No fan-fare, no grand opening…just “let’s get goin’.” I’d never actually intended to work there. They found themselves needing extra hands, though, so I jumped on board. I officially became employed at Butch and Sissy’s Double Wide Café.
Working at Butch and Sissy’s wasn’t quite like any other restaurant. You weren’t hired as a server or a cook or a hostess – you were just hired. Most days, I was a waitress. The clientele was widely varied. The majority of folks were locals – laid back, casually dressed, working-class people from the neighborhood. We had comfort food for low prices, and it was an easy place to hang out. You could overhear music from the record store or from the local street guys. Five Points is that eclectic kind of place that many tourists like to visit, so we also got a lot of out-of-towners including some celebrities wanting to get a real feel of Atlanta while staying off the beaten path. We had the occasional actor/actress, but we were more likely to see the musicians. To be honest, half the time I didn’t even recognize them. (They look so different when they’re being themselves.) Those customers made it fun to serve them, though. I really don’t remember any disgruntled ones. Mostly I remember all the customers who were kind, patient, generous and best of all, had a great sense of humor. They admired the kitschy décor and the constant variety in our menu due to chef changes. No matter who cooked it, though, the food was always good. That and the laid back atmosphere kept ‘em coming in to hand out and eat.
While I was primarily a server, on some days, though, I was a busser and runner and hostess… Occasionally, I was the dishwasher (I really do love the Otis) and the go-to-the-store-to-get ___. At times, I even stepped in as the “chef” – ok, “cook” would be a better description. One day, I showed up to wait tables and the chef had run away. I’m not kidding – the chef didn’t quit. We just lost the chef. So, in a pinch I subbed in… we were, after all a Southern comfort-food restaurant, which is perfect for a born and raised farm girl from South Georgia. I made meatloaf, collard greens, rice, tomato gravy, baked mac-n-cheese, corn-on-the-cob, fried chicken, sweet potato soufflé and fried okra. Fortunately, I was raised well and could pull off Southern cooking just fine. Everyone was full, fat and happy. I was still hostessing and waiting tables at the time since we were shorthanded. It was actually kind of fun, and none of the customers complained.
There was another night when the infamous “somebody” had forgotten to do inventory and make the weekly supply order. On that night, each table I sat, I explained to them: “welcome to Butch and Sissy’s – tonight you will be eating… “ I explained I would bring seat #1 fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans; seat #2 ham with collard greens and creamed corn; seat #3 meatloaf with collard greens and black-eyed peas; etc. Not one table got to order. They ate what I brought them or swapped out with their neighbor. Still – no complaints. That was just how we rolled at Butch and Sissy’s, and everybody knew it.
It was a wonderful joint and a hilarious time. More stories will surface over the years, I’m sure. No matter what, though, I will never forget Butch and Sissy’s Double-Wide Café or all the people I encountered working there. Hopefully, the newest restaurant installed is just as fun.










Monday, February 17, 2014

Snow Stories

SNOW

It’s a well-known fact that it doesn’t snow very often in the South – and when it does it’s not even deep enough to cause a regular snow area to even blink (read that as Colorado, Montana, the Dakotas, Michigan, New Jersey, Maine, etc…) Recently we have experienced a couple of annoying cold weather “storms of the century” (that’s the newscasters’ dramatic words – not mine.) So…I thought it was appropriate to tell some Southern snowstorm stories – don’t worry they are few and short – thank the Good Lord. (Ok - well you know I can drag a story out sometimes...)

I reckon the best place to start is how I experienced snow growing up in the South. Well… I think we got a dusting of snow once or twice in the 17 years I was a consistent resident down close to the GA-FL line. I do remember being excited and intrigued about those times, but I don’t think they were heavier than even being able to build a tiny snowball before it all melted away. The worst part of snow or even unusually cold weather was frozen pipes and dead plants and/or crops. Those weren’t necessarily my concerns at the time – I just remember some adult discussion about “the freeze” ruining this-or-that.  And… I’m not sure how much was sadness from loss of yard work versus loss of crop/livelihood money.

Now, there were opportunities to venture to the great north (Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC) where snow does fall a few times a year, and occasionally a bad storm will put them under inches – even feet – of snow. However, we mostly chose to visit that region on the every other yearly vacation - in the summer. (FL was so close…why would we drive to the north every winter?) These were wise decisions made by our parents. So… I can’t really remember being north enough to see a “real” amount of snow before we went to West Virginia. It was quite a fun trip. At the time, I was dating a guy I truly loved – and still do – who was an excellent travel companion. He and I had a similar sense of humor, so the 8, 10, whatever hour drive to my aunt and uncle’s house went by quickly. We amused ourselves – and others on the trip. Besides torturing drive-through clerks (I apologize – that was wrong. Funny, but wrong.) we may have possibly created some discord in a store when one of us pretended to be blind and knocked over an entire rack of clothing… That was a fun trip filled with juvenile pranks – but very fun! We arrived safely in WV, and as expected were faced with snow-laden and icy roads. Those folks are used to seeing that – particularly in the mountainous areas – so they were good at preparing the roads. It wasn’t too dangerous, but your vehicle definitely took on a lot of dirty snow/ice. Of course, the reasons to drive up there in the winter were to visit our aunt, uncle and cousins, and to boot – we’d also get to go snow skiing. Hadn’t ever done that in South GA. With graciously loaned snowsuits and gear, we headed to the mountain. I remember crashing a few times and inexplicably excelling a few times… what I most remember, though, is a crash. No, no – it wasn’t mine. It was my younger brother’s crash. Bless his heart, he had decided to brave one of those double diamonds. That decision landed him face-first, legs split into a tree… He made it down the mountain. I’ll still never forget him throwing his skis, gloves, jacket down a hallway muttering about his crash. My boyfriend and I picked up his discards in his wake, but wisely left my brother alone. Our first big adventure into snow was good overall, but I was yet to encounter real snow, real deep – blizzards, even…

This may seem completely unrelated…I was planning a beach trip. Hold on – I’ll get there: it was nearing spring break at Berry College. Some of my friends and I were going to visit my family in South GA and then spend 5 days or so at the beach in the panhandle of FL. Lo and behold, one week before the break we had a blizzard hit north GA. At the college’s main campus it wasn’t terrible – a few feet, but we definitely had some fun in the drifts that got as deep as 6-7 feet (mostly due to depressions or soccer practice fields lower than “street height” or depressions due to sinkholes…sorry, a different story entirely.) We did, however, lose power and were simultaneously unable to evacuate. The college was wonderful in providing whatever food they had available at no charge to anyone, and we figured it was a good idea to stuff all our mini-refrigerator items into the snow to keep ‘em safe. It worked quite well until we ran out of milk and cereal – I mean, that’s usually all we had in our minis. OK… other fun things I recall from that blizzard: making snow angels; playing cards at the boys’ basketball team’s apartment (I was a college athletic trainer at the time, so I knew all of them well and went with a group of female athletes.); hiking through the snow to get food from other dorm rooms; one of the basketball guys turning a vending machine upside down to get food from it; jumping into the snow drifts that were chest or head height just for the fun of it; being grateful for a week off class – and that we knew we’d be in FL days from then. Well, the power outage ran a bit longer than expected – as did the evacuation. At some point we hiked out through the snow to a friend’s parents’ house. We’d never been so grateful for a local student! (That’s entirely not true…this particular student was and is one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had – and that will be immediately backed up by all of the others whose lives she has touched.) After our li’l trek, we were well fed, warm and grateful.

Eventually, the weather complied, and we were able to drive around town again… long enough to pack our swimsuits for FL! We were in college – the thawing of the snow and returning our ability to drive independently were all we were concerned with in the moment. So, off we drove to where Big Mary laid out a marvelous meal in South GA, and we traveled further to have beautiful beach weather on the gulf for a few days.

Back to the snow…there were certainly snow times (mostly it was barely snow that turned into ice – which is actually worse) that I encountered again while I lived in Atlanta. Oh, and before that: I did a li’l job in northern New Mexico. It was on a ranch larger than 100,000 acres. Apparently, in the desert the nights are cold – even in the summer. It actually snowed on us twice in June! I’ll have some future stories to tell about those months with old-fashioned outhouses, horses and sleeping in open lofts, barns and lean-to’s.

The next big unexpected snow throwing a Southern girl for a loop was when I was in Baltimore. (I’m not even going to get into any kind of argument of whether Baltimore is north or South…just gonna tell the story.) Apparently, this was the worst snowstorm in over 100 years for Baltimore. I’ve read some reports that say in over 120 years. Also, the newspapers and weather channels recorded anywhere from 28-37 inches in 3-4 days (depends on which one you’re talking to – and if you factor in those that argue snow should be measured before it’s packed down with its own weight, those estimates would be even higher.) Also, there were certainly drifts deeper than the “official measurements.”

This was our brief break in snow downfall during those 3-4 days. More was to come.

At the time, I lived on sort of a downward sloping neighborhood that stretches from the more city-center-proper to Fell’s Point on the bay. So, in those spots that dipped lower than others, some of the snow was over 4 feet – even when it was packed down.
We obviously figured a way to dig ourselves out a bit – if only for the dawg. :~)



My neighbors’ dogs and our dog couldn’t see above the snow except on higher ground or after they’d run around and stomped on a good enough sized area of it. Now here is where it got even funnier. If I recall correctly when it first started I made it home from work and was then allowed a snow day the next day (this storm lasted 4 days.) The next day, however, I was scheduled to take trauma call in one of the city’s hospitals. I received a phone call that the National Guard would be by to pick me up. After double checking that it was still 4+ feet deep outside the stoop of our walk-up townhouse, I put on my scrubs and topped them off with my entire snowboarding suit – shoes, gloves, goggles and all. I mentioned I’m from GA, right – not Minnesota or Montana. I don’t do snow for long periods of time and resent it when I’m forced into it rather than choosing to go for recreational purposes. So…all dressed up, I hear one of those megaphones calling for Dr. Dixon to please step out. I opened the door and there was a humvee in the middle of the road – maybe 5 or 6 feet away from me. Standing on my stoop I yelled back – how am I supposed to get to you when the snow is over my head? Their practical reply was to jump into the snow near enough to them and raise my hands over my head. Once completed, they would pull me up into the hummer. It actually worked. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, and somebody should’ve filmed the whole thing, but it worked nonetheless. From there it was off to a police station where the roads had been cleared down to just a few inches – a place for me to await my next escort to the hospital – a very nice policeman. Once at the hospital he did remind me that I’d be stuck at the hospital until normal transportation – walking, buses, a friend picking me up by car once the roads cleared – could be arranged. In other words: now, instead of being snowed in at home, you are snowed into this hospital. Great. Fortunately it wasn’t too busy – and obviously, there were other of us residents snowed in there. We mostly did rounds and scut work then moped about the workroom complaining about being stuck and bored. We didn’t have many exciting traumas or surgeries during that time, so we were able to get sleep and catch up on dictations and such. Finally, after 48 hours or so, several fresh residents made it in, and I was able to get a lift home.

After Baltimore, it was off to Portland, OR. For the first few years I lived there the winters were ok. We had one snowfall my first Christmas there that kept the roads pretty sketchy for a week or so (takes longer to melt out there.) I think it was only a few inches then. A few other winters we got some light snow, maybe sleet, but it wasn’t so bad. Most of my snow experience was driving up to Mount Hood to snowboard. The great thing about that is Mt Hood is only 45 minutes away. That means, I can drive in and drive out in the same day. Obviously, they usually had very deep amounts of snow the higher you drive, however, they also were accustomed to this and did a good job keeping the roads fairly cleared. I should mention: the whole state had mandatory times/places where you must have either snow tires or chains on your regular tires. That really prevented many mishaps. I enjoyed being able to go see it when I wanted to and keep out of it when I didn’t want to be in it.

The first really annoying snowstorm I think of when considering Portland is one that happened – I guess winter 2005/2006. It nearly shut the whole city down. Of course, I was needed at the hospital. Well, this particular hospital is on one of the highest hills in Portland – and its roads were definitely inaccessible to regular vehicles. Fortunately, the city had managed to keep most of the trains and trolleys running. Even more fortunate was the fact that the hospital had just completed this giant tram that like a closed in ski lift transported patients and staff from the bottom of the hill to the top – opening inside the hospital itself.




(It was originally put in to help with parking congestion up on the hill, but turned out to be a lifesaver during this storm.) So…I would get up, walk to the nearest train; switch over to a trolley; and take the tram up to work each day (unless of course I had spent the night in the hospital on call.) Lots of fun those commutes…but we survived.

Another annoying snowstorm occurred in 2008/2009’s winter in Oregon. I was commuting about 30-60 minutes each way for work at a hospital further south. This was the area’s worst storm since 1968 – dropping 24 inches of snow in a day or so December 2008. As you can see,some drifts were significantly higher:



One of the idiosyncrasies of this state is for environmental purposes they do not believe in salting the roads for de-icing. Of course, they aren’t going to use any other potentially harmful chemicals, either. The alternative: rocks. That’s right, they dump clumps of sand, dirt and, yes, rocks all over the roads – especially the interstate. Whether it’s during the storm or after, you can almost guarantee that one of those rocks is gonna hit your windshield. So… besides having a nightmare commute at 5am on poorly cleared roads, I also contended with rocks hitting my windshield. I can’t count how many times I’ve had my windshield “patched up” with that li’l glue stuff they use (I currently have two fill-ins in this windshield), but I can tell you that I went through 5 total windshield replacements in 4 years. The windshield repair guys just set up in parking lots and in front of gas stations – they’ll even drive to where you are. Their business is booming in that state.

Now, after moving from Portland, I spent time in Florida and Georgia, so I had a reprieve from the snow. Then…I moved to Charlotte, NC. It is truly a gorgeous city – green and lush from spring to fall. This winter, however, has proven to be a bear. I was a bit disappointed when it was so cold my hair gel froze each time I walked from the building to my vehicle, but a week later when it started to snow… oh my… The governor declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard. The last moment I dared brave driving, there were wrecks all around, and I fishtailed at every stoplight and turn – and that was with 4-wheel drive. I swore I wasn’t going back out there. And then work called. :~( Fortunately, a very kind man agreed to drop me off. That was wonderful. I need to make a note here that I am currently working at a restaurant. The restaurant was out-of-control that night. There were only 5 of us. Normally, there’d be 5-6 in the kitchen; 1-2 expo’ing; 5-6 waitstaff; 1-3 bartenders; 1-2 hostesses; 2-4 bussers; 1-2 dishwashers and a manager or two. That’s conservatively in the 17-20+ range. There were 5 of us. We knocked it out – but it was crazy. There were 2 chefs, 1 manager, 1 busser and me expo’ing. Well, as you can imagine, that’s not how we ran it. There were 5 people who did everything from cooking to washing dishes to cleaning to bussing to serving to bartending to answering the phones to delivering room service (there's a hotel next door)to answering the phones to taking out the garbage…you get the idea. I think each of us did just about every job in that restaurant at one point or another. We kinda fell into areas that we mostly stuck to, but we were frequently pulled around to all those others if only for a few minutes at a time. We succeeded, though. The final part to this story is that I could not find a ride home, so I walked. The snow on the ground was only 2 or so inches…but it was sleeting rain. I actually got wind burn on my face during that 1 ½ - 2 mile walk back, and I was, of course, completely soaked through all my many layers of clothing. I was grateful to have a safe, dry, warm place to go...

I reckon in conclusion, I’ll simply say this. I am a Southerner. I will always be a Southerner – no matter where I am – because it’s who I am. 
And I don’t like snow.



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