Friday, July 21, 2017

The Swamp

raccoon walks slick log,
coyotes howl as sun sets low,
the swamp comes alive.

hill drops to water's
edge where lily pads grow and 
fish turn the water.

dark pool surrounded 
by bluffs, towering trees,
birds sing and coons walk.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Joy in the Morning

If you read my last post, you may have thought I needed a trip to the psych ward. Honestly, I was feeling like I did. But if you read carefully and noticed the tenses, you may have been aware that my dark night of the soul was already beginning to pass by the time I penned that essay.

During my ordeal, a couple of songs by Sawyer Brown crossed my mind. I googled then, found them on YouTube, and listened to them with tears. Some of the wording describes with shocking accuracy what I was enduring:

      Like clown I put on a show
      The pain is real even if nobody knows
      And I'm crying inside and nobody knows it but me

Tuesday morning I dragged out of bed and met John at Twin Rivers Recreation Center. I wasn't sure I could swim at all, but I was willing to give it a go because I could push down with the palm of my hand and feel no pain in the shoulder. I didn't do much, but I did swim for the first time in over three weeks. The total was a mere 500 meters of swimming and 500 of kicking. But I was in the water, I was happy, and hope had returned. "Hoped deferred," the Bible says, "maketh the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life" (Proverbs 13:2, KJV).

The shoulder was only mildly uncomfortable on the recovery phase and only then for a few strokes. Nevertheless, I didn't not, would not, pull the water hard. It was like my brain had a governor on my arms. Slow, easy, 50 meters at a time. But it was wet and wonderful. Now I feel like I really am on the way back. The biceps tendons in the shoulder are still sore and the backside of the joint is still tight and sore when I move in certain ways. But I could pull without any negative sensation.

Not only did I swim Tuesday, but Wednesday morning I awoke to a "Bing" from my cell phone. It was MJ Staples. Her message: "Woo hoo!! It's official!" I didn't have to ask what she was referring to but immediately went to the Marathon Swimmers Federation website to see under their news section that the latest documented swim was Chicot Challenge VI. That was a real kick in the pants. 

Now I am drinking coffee after a good night's sleep. Jeff is beside me, snoring. CC. is on the edge of the bed, sleeping like only a cat can. Life is good. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not for Sissies

I heard that "getting old ain't for sissies." Certainly it ain't for people who can't adjust to change, the kind of change they don't like. Lately I've endured a few of those. They didn't match me so I felt they were out of style the moment they arrived. 

If I had to describe myself in one word, I would say "goal-oriented." Yeah, that's two words but only one term. Over the years, my goals have been hunting related, athletic, fishing related, athletic, educational, athletic, ecclesiastical, athletic, intellectual, and athletic. Did I mention athletic? Athletic has included cycling, running, swimming, weightlifting, and hiking. Over the last few years, those pursuits have centered primarily on swimming with running and weightlifting morphing into crosstraining for my passion of moving through water sometimes a full day at a time.

Of late, however, my pursuit of goals has ground to a depressing halt due to injuries of the knee and shoulder and have effectively stopping my running, swimming, and weightlifting. To say this has been difficult for me is like saying July in Mississippi tends to be a little on the warm side. Whine alert: if you don't want to hear me complain for paragraphs on end, stop reading now. You have been warned. 

I was only a teenager when I heard my grandmother tell my parents that the doctor told her, "Y'all can't take everything from me." The discussion had been about her driving. At the time, I laughed out loud because I knew her doctor said no such thing. What I realized only later was the struggle she was undergoing, the struggle of losing her independence. Yeah, getting old ain't for sissies, it ain't even for semi-sissies. She was faced with new limitations, and I saw first hand-- although only a mere glimpse-- how disturbing this change was to her. 

I saw it with my dad also. He remained incredibly active all his life. Into his 70s, he was the most active person I ever knew. He ran, played tennis, hunted, fished, worked on his place in Carroll County, and gardened. At the age of 81, he had to stop running due to arthritis in his right foot. One of my goals, consequently, was to run until I was at least 82. His tennis partners died off. Head mobility issues eventually ended his fishing trips to Louisiana. He was 82, I think, when he ceased his week-long fishing trips to the place he enjoyed most in life. Slowly, the world closed in on him. Trips to "the place" as he called his 176 acres in the hills, became half-day affairs instead of whole-day ones. His fishing radius narrowed and narrowed until it was confined to his pond in the country. A bad fall in a little boat ended even that.

Towards the end he struggled mightily with the limitations age brought him. He didn't just take it, however; he fought back and resisted age to the very end. I admired him for that. Literally, he died with his running shoes on, having been out for a walk the day he dropped dead. It was a shocking way for us to lose him, but one fitting for the way he lived life.

My reduction in activity along with the uncertainty of my future goals has led me into a valley of despair. I guess that's what did it. Actually, I don't know why I have had to face the dark alley I have been trapped in over the last couple of weeks. Ordinarily, I am not one much prone to getting down emotionally. However of late, I have battled the blues like never before. I am not seeking sympathy by writing this. I am seeking understanding. And as I prayed one morning for that very thing asking God, What is wrong with me? the Lord spoke to my heart. "This is what your dad was going through," He whispered to my soul.

I understand him, my dad, better now. I understand more the struggles he had as life changed for him. But that advancement of insight with my dad has not brought the same clarity for my own condition. Why am I going through this? 

The week of 7/10 - 7/16 was the nadir of my internal struggles. I felt like I was paralyzed. I had no energy, no drive, no focus. Some mornings it was difficult just getting out of the bed. I know there are people who face these struggles often. But I never have and that is one reason it was/is so shocking so frightening to me. Is this the way it is going to be from now on? I am only 61. If I feel this way now, what will 81 bring?

Interwoven in all of this was guilt, a guilt stemming from my faith. I felt almost as if God was asking me if He was enough. If everything else is gone, is God enough? I know what the correct answer to that question is. But major loss always brings with it a confusion of equilibrium. 

If I read the Bible correctly, God didn't create Adam and Eve to exist. They had work. Adam had a divinely appointed job:

     And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to            dress it and to keep it. (Genesis 2:15, KJV)

When Moses reached the end of his journey, his work, did God send him away into the wilderness to exist? No, God took him home. When Elijah finished his work, God took him. When Jesus finished his work on earth, he likewise went home.

Much remains for me. I pastor a church; I have a wife; I work a job; my grandchildren love me as do our cats. I am not confined to bed or a wheel chair. I have basic health. But I terribly miss my athletics. Long ago they replaced hunting and fishing and became much more than a path to health and fitness. They became my hobbies, the source of goals, ministry even. The Chicot Challenge is more than a goal, more than a swim, more than a good deed. I view it as ministry as does the Centerville Baptist Church. In light of all this, it makes me feel bad to feel bad. There is a word for that. It's called being conflicted. My affliction and confliction has shown me that I am ill suited to being ill.

Will my body mend? If so when, and will it ever again be able to endure sixteen straight hours of swimming? Have I been weighed in the balance by God and found wanting? I don't know the answer to these questions. A trite pat on the back and a "It will be OK," is a 'physician of little value.' I don't want your pity. I do, however, welcome your prayers.

Praise be to God who giveth me the ability to whine. (Hodge 4:7)

Monday, July 17, 2017

7/10 - 7/16

It's a little painful to make these posts now, but it is getting a bit better. Just a bit.

The long and short of it is I have started walking more, and last week I added some bike trainer work. Not much but I started. I also began rehabbing my right shoulder. Still, I am like a yo-yo on the shoulder. One day I think it is going to be alright and the next day I am convinced it is not, that I need to seek medical treatment, that I have torn my corater tuff.

Tuesday I did some work designed to slowly begin strengthening the shoulder and bicep. I did a single set of one-arm bench presses (10 X 8). There was no pain, but there was a little tightness at the bottom, so I limited the range of motion. After the bench presses, I did a set of lateral raises with 2 pounds. I have been doing some 1 pound lat raises inside where I have a badly worn pair of 1 and 1/4 pound plates that I call 1 pounders. I stepped it up to a badly worn 2 and 1/2. I kept the range of motion slight not because of discomfort but because of fear. My mind just would not let my arm go up very high. 

Besides the bench press and lateral raise, I did one set of curls at 2 pounds. Of course I wanted to do more but better sorry than safe. Despite the nursing home poundage, I found the whole affair highly encouraging, and my mood soared as a result. But the shoulder was more gimpy the next day so it was Thursday before I did any more strengthening work when I did about the same thing but no bench presses. Friday the shoulder felt better. Cha ching!

Tuesday, besides the shoulder work, I walked 3.6 miles and did 21:00 on the bike trainer. Wednesday, I worked in the yard and walked 3.67 miles. Thursday I did the shoulder work and piddled in the yard for .8 of a mile. Friday I took another walk of 3.57 miles and Saturday I walked 1.41 after doing 30:00 on the bike trainer. So, I am doing a little and the shoulder is improving very slowly. What else can I do? Thanks be to God who gives hope to mankind.

Friday, July 14, 2017

James Again

He was on my mind as he had been from time to time over the past several years. I had not seen him in more than half a decade. From 2009 through 2010 I went on a bicycle riding rampage, and I rode by his place of business over and over. I always stopped, bought a pop and a Snickers. We chatted. 

I didn't know if he would remember me. I didn't even know if he remained alive. Did he still operate the store out of his house? Had he remarried? Did he have a dog? If he did remember me, would he give two cents of a care?

He always seemed to like me, but I doubted he even knew my name. He never called me Zane, not once. But I had the time, the truck, and the nastolgia so I pointed the front of my Nissan Frontier north and headed out Money Road. 

Where Money Road ends at Highway 8, I turned east and motored to Highway 35 before heading north again to Cascilla Road. Cascilla Road leads into the hills and a few miles on it brought me to that familiar, old country blue Jim Walter home that was Grammar's Old School Store as well as James Grammar's home when I was spending whole days bicycling Tallahatchie County. 

I turned in and noticed someone sitting on the edge of the porch. By the time I put my truck in park, I knew it was James. He gave me a blank stare at first but then a gentle smile broke across his face. That answered two of my questions.

We shook hands, and I felt my face smile big as I watched his do the same. I sat beside him on the porch where the steps are. We chatted and more of my questions got answered. He no longer runs his store. "Tired of it," was his reason. It never was much of a store. Mostly he sold beer to people who parked on his lawn on weekend nights. He walked from truck to truck delivering cold ones and collecting money. But he became weary of it. He tired of the fights, tired of the hassle, tired of providing a place for people to do drugs. "I would pick up hand fulls of syringes after a Saturday night. I never felt good about that."
Me 'n James chillin' on a hot day.

So he closed his "store" and now works a regular job. "Night shift. I like the job, but hate the night shift. I can't sleep in the day time. I come home and sleep a couple of hours and then I'm up." Big white blobs of clouds dotted the blue sky and jaybirds squawked in the background as we sweated and sat beside each other. Sometimes we went minutes without saying words.

I asked him how the churches around Cascilla were doing. "Heck if I know," he shot back at me before taking a long pull on his big beer. One reason I asked was he used to help his ex-wife clean the Nazarene Church just up the road. And as little as I know about Cascilla, I am actually acquainted with a couple of current pastors in the area and one former preacher. He mentioned Mark Moore, who serves at the Stonefield Church of God two miles west of downtown Cascilla. "A lot of people like him and go up there." I brought up Jerry Hill who pastors North Shady Grove a mile or two north. "I grew up with Jerry." Oddly, he didn't know Robby Rykard who once pastored Cascilla Baptist. "Nobody stays over there more 'n a few months," he told me.

When I asked what was new in the town, he got real talkative, said there's a new night club that opened and hosts bands and stuff such as that. "Is that where your former clientele went?"

"Naw. You have to pay to get in. I don't know where my folks went." A breeze blew across our backs and James noted how good it felt. I asked about the kudzu growing on the trees bordering his pasture. "Don't know what to do about that." I asked him about the horse by the kudzu by in the pasture behind his house. "My daughter-in-law's."

When I asked about a piece of a store that used to be in an ancient building downtown, I learned some stuff. "Closed. He never had much in there. Mostly it was a front for him to bootleg."

"Bootleg? You mean moonshine?"


"They still do that around here?"


"As many people hunt and go into the woods, how can you get away with such as that?"

"They put their stills in barns and sheds. Naw, you couldn't put one in the woods. The helicopters would see it if the hunters didn't. They fly over here all the time looking for marijuana. When they first started flying around out here looking for weed, it was right after I bought this property and there was nothing here. They landing the copter right there," he said pointed a few feet away. "Then they brought in big trucks and for weeks they hauled out marijuana. Weeks. There was weed in every gully in the county. All the stores around here was doin' good. Then one day, one of the store owners was dog cussing the drug folks for 'ruining the economy.'" James laughed out loud.

"Now it's drugs. Drugs is everywhere. At work, we hire and fire constantly. The company tries to give 'em a chance, but if they have to go to jail, they're fired."

I looked at my watch. "I guess I better go. My wife will be home by the time I get back." We shook hands.

"Things sure have changed," he said standing up and watching me walk to my truck. "I miss some of the people who did business with me. They was a$$h0#e$, but I liked 'em anyway." I opened the truck door. "Think I'll go see one of those guys. He never gets out much anymore. Think I'll go see him."

"Do that," I said while I shut the door and cranked the truck. James was looking my way when I pulled out onto Cascilla Road and drove away.


[I thought I posted this a few years back, but either I did not or the search feature on Blogger is not very good. I know the latter is true, but even though you may have seen this before, I offer it here to give some backstory to the following piece, "James Grammar Again."] 

To me he always has the appearance of someone who’s been chasing a cow. If you meet him, I think you’ll see what I mean. Physically he is quite ordinary, maybe 5’8’’ and 160 pounds. Probably he’s in his late forties and I’d say once he was a decent looking fellow. But every time I look at James Grammar, I see a man with the fatigue and frustration of running after cows and stepping in their crap.

I like him. He doesn’t talk much nor does he offer a lot of information unsolicited. Since I don’t ask many questions, we really don’t know one another very well. He is like the road maps I study before making my long Friday rides. I see the signs, the lines, the scars on the page, but until I actually pedal my bicycle there, they remain a mystery.

If he has siblings or living parents, I don’t know. Neither do I know if he ever had grand plans or accomplished heroic feats. If he ever made good grades in school, played sports, played in the band, or killed animals, I have no clue. If he’s traveled to exotic places, loved beautiful women, or fought with rugged men, I know not.

I do know he once had a wife, a job, good knees. Now he runs a store at Cascilla, Mississippi in a decaying country blue Jim Walter home on the outskirts of town. Inside the store, a few beer coolers decorate the living room. A counter, a cash register, and a few shelves of candy, sardines, and potted meat make up his business. James lives in the rest of the house, and once when I used the bathroom there, I placed my left hand firmly on the windowsill and my right one on the lavatory for fear of falling through the floor. Dust and dead insects covered the bottom of the bathtub.

It was the summer of 2009 when I first rode into Cascilla. Generally I have a prejudice against riding past stores since often I am hungry, lost, and dehydrated when I find them. I was hungry, lost, and dehydrated the day I unclipped and pushed my Trek up the gravel drive and leaned it against his front porch.

I met his dog, a mutt named Jim Brown after the man who dumped him on the road in front of the store. Inside I bought and ate sardines, drank a Coke, and cooled off. He didn’t seem to mind me licking my fingers, smacking, and burping. His dark skin and eyes reminded me of a cousin of mine. His shoulder length dark hair reminded me of no one in particular. He smoked constantly while we chatted mostly about nothing I can remember.

I do remember once he warned me of the dangers of riding a bicycle in Tallahatchie County. Those dangers have never materialized, and for two full years “the Free State of Tallahatchie” has been my playground. Every time I think I’ve ridden all the roads, I find a new one, or I want to revisit and old one or see James again or eat a greasy Philly Cheese Steak at the store in Tillatoba.

He opens at 2:30 in the afternoon which means sometimes I miss him. At his place I am forty-one miles from home, and often I get there with eighty or more miles on my legs. If he’s not open, I feel comfortable enough to take a nap on the old church pew that adorns his front porch. Sometimes Jim Brown, after first ferociously barking at me, curls up on the floor below me. He’s a good napper, Jim Brown, and sometimes James will wake us both when he drives up and begins unloading cases of beer from the back of his pickup. If he does wake us, I’ll buy a Snickers Bar from him before beginning the next leg of my journey home. If he doesn’t break our nap before I need to leave to get home when my wife says, I’ll say goodbye to Jim Brown and ride away regretting my lack of chocolate.

I never remember him calling me by name, but he offered me a free Coke the day I got too hot and was confused, trying to count out the change to buy one. The same man, whom I once saw throw out two drunks when one had the temerity to ask for a small loan, also gave me a shirt the day I got rained on and chilled.

The first time I pedaled to his place in 2010, I saw a blond haired person unloading beer and I thought, James has a girlfriend. But when I got closer, I noticed the hair was not blond but white and the person was not a woman but a man. Over the winter, his hair had changed, his dog had died, and once more he looked like a man who had been chasing a cow.

His front yard fills with pickup trucks on Friday and Saturday nights, I am told. Most of his costumers never open their doors except to pee on the lawn. James collects their money and delivers the beer while country music from a dozen or more radios competes with the tree frogs and katydids. To me it sounds like a recipe for robbery, and every time I read the paper I check the obituary section for his name. I don’t know if it would show up in the Greenwood Commonwealth, but I always look.

Anyway, if you ever go to Cascilla stop by and see him. There’s no sign but you really can’t miss it. His store is on the south side of Cascilla Road on the west side of town. Town consists of two closed buildings, a Baptist church, a small post office, and three or four houses. Tell him Zane sent you, and I said hello. If he doesn’t recognize the name, tell him I’m the Biker Guy who naps on the porch and buys his Snickers Bars. Let him know I’ll be back when the weather warms. A nap always makes me feel better, and a Snickers Bar from Grammar’s Old School Store is as good as any I’ve had anywhere.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Beets Sentenced

Beets Sentenced
By Jay Unver

Lehrton, MS (BA) Short, sweet, and to the point. That's how things went down at the Big ASS Training Center Conference room this morning when Dr. Timothy Nomann sentenced Randy Beets who last week pleaded nolo contendere at his latest disciplinary trial. 

Nomann gaveled the court into session after the pledge of allegiance had been recited by all in attendance. 

Beets and counsel, Johnny Johnson of Johnson, Johnson, and Johnson were asked to approach the bench.

"Mr. Beets, I fine you $1.00."

Beets visibly wobbled and had to be held erect by Johnny Johnson of Johnson, Johnson, and Johnson. 

"This sentence is suspended for a period of one year. If you are brought before the court again, within the next twelve months, this fine will be imposed upon you along with any other penalties that may accrue due to additional charges."

Beets was stable again. And just like that, Randy Beets was a free man. He and Johnny Johnson of Johnson, Johnson, and Johnson were all smiles. Zane Hodge, who sat in the back, quickly exited the room after sentencing as did the Barber Shop.

Law enforcement in Lehrton County has been placed on high alert.