Before there was Derrick Henry

What happens to a tiny town when ESPN comes to town?  Well you throw a party of course.

As the high school and college sporting world descends upon the quiet little community of Yulee, Florida, tonight, I am reminded that this little spot on the map in Northeast Florida has produced a number of college and professional athletes over time.  As a sports fan, our memories are short when the next great thing comes along.  Before they played on the manicured grass of faraway stadiums, ball fields and golf courses, they played catch in the sand spurs and fine, gray sand in this little wedge of a county between Florida and Georgia.

Derrick Henry will join a small fraternity of notable Nassau County athletes as he goes head to head tonight with Kelvin Taylor, son of probable NFL Hall of Fame running back Fred Taylor.  Members of that fraternity include All American Terrence Flagler, running back for Clemson and later the San Francisco 49ers, Daniel Thomas of Kansas State and current Miami Dolphins running back, Ronald Veal, quarterback of the Arizona Wildcats and Rick Stockstill, honorable mention All-American for Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles.  But Nassau County doesn’t just produce a top tier football player every few years.  We’ve offered up a few other notable athletes as well.

Jon Shave of Fernandina Beach High School spent 15 years in the Major Leagues after his time at Mississippi State.  Other notable baseball players include Reggie Stewart, father of former Bolles standout D.J. Stewart (speaking of recent memory), Anton Mobley, Del Mathews, Michael Johns, manager of the Princeton Rays in New York and Howie Kendrick of West Nassau High School who currently plays for the Anaheim Angels.  Not to mention PGA Tour Pro Bubba Dickerson who won the 2001 U.S. Amateur.  These are just a few notable athletes I recall from Nassau County-feel free to remind me of others.

There are some surprising names on the list, probably some that you come in contact with every day.  Our athletes are not showy, flashing attention seekers.  Our athletes are quiet and humble and have moved through their professional careers with grace and dignity.  When their professional careers were done, some came back to their communities to become our neighbors, friends, coaches and lead unassuming lives.

Once again, tonight the lights will shine on another great Nassau County athlete.  At some point today, Derrick Henry will announce his college selection and his next great adventure will begin.  We wish you well Derrick and hope that you will one day find your way back to the sand spurs and fine, gray sand of Nassau County.


Exposing my literary ignorance

I am a poor excuse for an aspiring Southern writer.  I was just looking through the list of people and places on the Southern Literary Trail,, and realized of all the authors on the page, I have only read two.  Not much of a literary connoisseur I know.

I think I am in love with the idea of Southern writers.  I came to this conclusion years ago while proofreading the master’s level papers for a friend when she would have to write compare/contrast papers on William Faulkner’s characters.  I attempted to read “The Sound and the Fury” once when I was a teenager but simply could not get my head wrapped around it.  I concluded 25 years ago that William Faulkner was a bit of a nutcase.

According to the organizers of the Southern Literary Trail, the only states to produce worthwhile southern literature are Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.  Depending on what your definition of the South is, there’s a few states missing-which coincidentally hold the authors that I have read and reread.

North Carolina would be the adopted home of one Horace Kephart who was instrumental in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with his friend George Masa.  Kephart should be included amongst the southern literary legends as his book “Our Southern Highlanders” provided insight into the southern Appalachian life and the people.  This was long before “Deliverance” showed the world we were all deaf mute, porch dwelling banjo pickers, a stereotype that prevails forty years later.  Let us not forget Charles Frazier who wrote “Cold Mountain”, which gave us a great account of the hardships of those in Appalachia that stayed home during the Civil War.  “Thirteen Moons” details the life of an indentured servant sent to the boundaries of the wilderness and becomes an adopted Cherokee, sent to Washington to fight for their land ownership.  South Carolina is the home of Pat Conroy, the first author I read that started me down the road of reading for pleasure.  Although I must admit, some of his recent work seems to spend more time whining about the ills of life, maybe it’s just me.  Florida has an abundance of legendary writers that wrote of the land and its people, such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  While I did not slog through “The Yearling” while in middle and high school, I did read it within the last five years and found it fascinating along with “Cross Creek”.  Another author, Patrick D. Smith gave us the story of central Florida and its Cracker inhabitants.  Could it possibly be that I have more of an affinity for an author that has written stories of places I frequent? Do I relate to the characters of “Cold Mountain” because I am only five generations removed from a family that had to endure that hardship?  Do I like Alice Walker and “The Color Purple” because I relate to what it was like to struggle through life as a black woman in Depression Era Georgia?  I’m thinking no.  Who the hell knows why I am attracted to the authors and their stories.

It would be easier to name the classic authors I haven’t read.  So for your reading pleasure, I bare my soul and expose my literary ignorance to the world-here we go.  I have not read for pleasure books by the following authors-Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Truman Capote.  There-I said it.  I am a literary rube.

For some writers I suppose it is necessary to be familiar with Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty and Harper Lee but I just can’t bring myself to it.  For the love of God man I’ve only read one of William Shakespeare’s works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  Bill Mason, my high school English teacher, is looking down on me wondering how I ever made it this far in life I’m sure.  Betty Sellers, my college English teacher, will sit and wonder how I could possibly call myself a writer without ever having swooned over the poetry of Byron Herbert Reece.  But alas, I read what keeps me interested.  I guess this is the part of the story where I commit myself to “working on the classics”.  I’ll give Faulkner another try I suppose, maybe even throw in a Hemmingway for good measure.  The mere thought of this daunting task is so terribly unappealing.  The only redeeming thought is “Harry Potter and the….”, sits right on my bedside table for purposes of decompressing from Faulkner’s madness.

The Fine Art of Conversation

I have realized in my ripe, old age of 42 that having a nice long conversation with a friend is much more enjoyable than nearly anything else I can think of.  Between work, raising kids and husbands and the chaos of a middle aged life in general, we women tend to get lost in the grind of life and forget to have fun.  But fun at this age does not entail hitting the club at 10 pm, screaming out how our day went while dancing until 1 am.  No, fun nowadays is a two hour, two margarita lunch with a friend while we discuss why our husbands have turned into grumpy, middle aged assholes.

The fine art of conversation has been lost on some.  I learned years ago in college how to make conversation.  Because we were sequestered in a tiny, north Georgia community, with no bars, no bands and only each other from which to derive humor and entertainment, we were forced to learn the craft.  Many a Friday and Saturday night were spent standing around a campfire discussing one thing or another drinking cheap beer or wine with screw off caps.  No fights, no stupidity, just smiles and laughter.  

As I proceeded through my twenties I realized I really hated the bar scene and longed for more intimate gatherings.  I enjoyed the drinking and dancing but what I loathed (and still do) is trying to have a conversation over the thumpings of a crappy cover band.  I wanted to talk, I wanted to listen, I wanted to figure out where my life was taking me, because we all know we’re going to conquer the world from the hi top table in the back corner.

I tried the dinner parties in my thirties, one major party each year in May where I cooked a massive spread but after a while it just wasn’t doing it for me.  I had to clean the house, prepare the food and clean the mess.  I was surrounded by my close friends but pulling off something of that magnitude more than once a year was daunting and I grew bored with it.  My house was small and my kitchen and dining room were not large enough for full blown dinner parties.  I was often left out of the conversation because I was so busy, so what, exactly, was the point.

In my later thirties my husband and I joined an off road club where families were the focus of our fun.  It worked out well, the husband had like-minded, automotive types around him to keep him entertained, I had thirty and forty something wives to keep me entertained and the art of the campfire conversation was rekindled.  Most camping outings would find two campfires going-the wives around one discussing vacations, schools and the other mindless drivel of thirty something women, the other fire held the men and discussions on the merits of the four link suspension and the compound of the latest off road tire.  Being isolated from the men was never a real issue, as a matter of fact we preferred it that way.

About three or four years ago we left the club, my husband had done all of the improvements and upgrades to the Jeep that he was going to do, and for him, the joy was in the build, not the wheeling.  We recently bought another Jeep but are resisting the urge to rejoin the club.  Its two hours away and the kids are becoming more and more occupied with other interests.  But I do miss the conversations.

It must be stated that conversation for women is so much different than I imagine it would be for men.  I envision the male bonding conversation being highly focused on a topic, behind closed doors with scotch on the rocks in hand with little to no outside interruption.  Men can’t stay focused on their conversation with too many distractions.  Don’t believe for a minute that men can cook and carry on a conversation about baseball statistics at the same time, at least still provide you with an edible grilled item.  A conversation among women can go from what little Bobby accomplished at school to local politics to gossip to the mindless insanity of our mothers in about four and a half minutes, and everyone is completely up to speed.  In one particular conversation I was involved in the topic went in this order; such a pretty girl…why does she dress like that….you know she’s gay and has been hitting on so and so….most people think I’m gay….I get hit on in biker bars by chicks….I don’t have a problem with the women hitting on me its the gay guys that want to be my best friend.  And that ladies and gentlemen is the deterioration of the female conversation. 

I recently became friends with a high school classmate with whom I have had few interactions with since school.  She is married to a distant relative by way of marriage but in the south we’re all distantly related to people by marriage.  Our daughters play high school sports together and we seem to have hit it off somehow, possibly from our mutual love of sarcasm and need for intelligent conversation.  There are rules to the conversation, we must each bring a topic to discuss as these games are sometimes long and boring.  With my friend’s background in community mental health and my background in nursing, most topics surround the brain with my interest being neuro-physiology.  The conversations always start off intelligent and academic-like but usually degrade over the two hours into what stupidity our husbands and sons do, the poor grammar used by those around us and misspelled tattoos.  The conversations take place in fits and starts as it is not seen by either of us as rude to get up and walk away at the end of a sentence.   But the talk begins in the same point it left off with new points being made.  When the season ended our conversations became nearly non-existent until we made the ill fated mistake of having lunch on my birthday-nothing like a $75 lunch tab at a Mexican restaurant, the majority of which was margaritas.  I was happy to pay the price as we laughed and gossiped like twelve year old girls.

I was reminded again this past weekend of my love for quality conversation.  My friends and I from the off road club were reunited for a day of story telling and bellying aching over this, that and the other, mostly grumpy, middle-aged husbands.  We let our friend vent about her loneliness in the big city with no friends and how the most interesting thing that has happened to her as of late was possibly becoming a nanny for two gay men who recently adopted a newborn infant. This is why I subscribed to the notion that real life is stranger and funnier than fiction.  I whined about my husband’s new love of all things gun related (another expensive hobby).  All of this while driving around a campground in a golf cart with beer in hand, ah yes, good times.  

I think I will make it a point of once a month, spending time with a friend, be it lunch or dinner, and have a good conversation.  It seems to lift the spirit and remind me that although life is mostly dull and mundane, a good conversation with your friends is all the entertainment you need.  From what I’ve heard, it beats the hell out of Honey Boo-Boo.

You Wish You Played Like a Girl

My friend last Thursday proclaimed it was like Christmas Day except no, it was only the first game of the college football season which parlays into the much larger term “football season”.  Now Saturdays and Sundays can be occupied with the more joyful tasks of consumption of mass quantities, adult beverages and hours of football beginning around 10 am and winding down around midnight.

As much as I proclaim to be a fan of football, I missed the Saturday games this year (and most previous years) as I took four teenagers to a camping spot to visit with friends and ride golf carts with reckless abandon.  My only source of college football information was the Scoremobile app on my Droid.  It seems I didn’t miss a whole lot except for the epic beat down of Michigan and Denard Robinson.

With the beginning of football season comes the ever popular Fantasy Football Draft.  I have not played fantasy football in a few years so I was anxious to get back into the mix.  My previous forays into fantasy football met with less than stellar results.  After one exceptionally mediocre year I swore off Michael Vick for good.  But this is a new setup with me having to manually draft my team.  My team, I think, is just above average with the top flight quarterbacks already taken, except for Peyton Manning.  Oh yeah, his back up this year will be everyone’s favorite fantasy draft bust Michael Vick.  I have some well known players such as Victor Cruz but when we got down to the fourth and fifth rounds I started to go with players I was familiar with such as Jaguars or Bulldog/Gator/Seminole players that were successful in college.  So we shall see.

I’m the only girl in this particular league, although women are beginning to play fantasy football more and more.  The girls can bring the smack talk just like the guys but we must make sure the seven layer dip is heated through before we sit down for game day.

So get your stats and smack talk horn ready-for tonight the Dallas Cowboys and New Your Giants kick off the pro football season and another mediocre fantasy football season for me.

It’s almost here-I promise!

“If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.”  Erma Bombeck

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a man because in the South, all of us suffer for months on end.  From February until Labor Day (that would be the first weekend in September since my husband cannot differentiate between Memorial Day, Labor Day and Arbor Day) we suffer through honey do projects, months of college basketball and pro baseball until we arrive at last to the opening of college football season.  The sports gods provided us with a brief reprieve this year by throwing the Olympics in and ESPN has provided us with two weekends of Little League Baseball to get us to the end of our long, dark off season.

The people I truly feel for are the people trying to plan a nice fall wedding in the South.  Trying to select a date from September to November is torture because every Saturday is consumed by college football games.  I am reminded of my friend’s wedding in November some years back.  The football game of the weekend was Steve Spurrier’s return to The Swamp to take on the Florida Gators.  After the ceremony, everyone returned to the bride’s parents house for a reception tea prior to that night’s formal reception.  As the crowd gathered around the television, Coach Spurrier proceeded to spank the Gators which made for lively entertainment, especially since the majority of viewers were Gator fans.  There was a fair bit of sulking but my friend’s wedding was made all the more memorable by allowing her guests viewing time of their favorite team.

Fans of southern college football follow their teams with a passion not seen in other areas of the country.  How else do you explain the ability of a mediocre Tennessee team to pack 105,000 people into Neyland Stadium on a Saturday night.  Ask any Georgia fan over 40 who scored the winning touchdown over Florida in 1980 and they will, nearly without fail, tell you in great detail-here’s a hint, it wasn’t Herschel Walker.  Bear Bryant has been dead for nearly 30 years but his legacy endures forever in Tuscaloosa with crowds of fans donning versions of his signature hounds tooth hat.  Only in Florida do you understand what “wide right” and “wide right II” mean.  I would give the award for most crazed fans to the state of Alabama, where the hatred between Alabama and Auburn is palpable across the state-I mean really, who poisons trees in Toomer’s Corner and brags about it?  Welcome to college football in the South.

Our athletes are just short of gods for the remainder of their lives, despite their success or lack of success in the NFL.  We shrug off the suggestion that Heath Shuler was a draft bust only to recall with clarity that he set many Tennessee passing records, until some kid named Peyton Manning showed up.  Herschel Walker spent his USFL and NFL years as a journeyman running back but for Georgia fans he lives on as the 18 year old Freshman running back who decleated Bill Bates of Tennessee at the goal line for a touchdown.

But in the South there are the “also ran” teams of the SEC.  Despite going on to win two Super Bowls and two Super Bowl MVPs, Eli Manning could never push Mississippi to a conference title, although he was the conference MVP once.  Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are the annual whipping boys of the SEC.  Occasionally, Kentucky will put together a .500 team and Vanderbilt and Mississippi State will reach up and bite another SEC team in the butt.  For the most part however, its an annual blood bath between Georgia, South Carolina and Florida in the east, and Alabama, LSU and Auburn in the west.

So fear not college football fans for our long, dark winter is nearly over.  On Thursday night we shall all camp out in front of our flat screens to watch South Carolina beat the pants off Vanderbilt and proceed to overdose on college football all the way until Monday evening.  Happy College Football Season everyone!!!

Ah yes, the smell of politics

“It is fast approaching the point where I don’t want to elect anyone stupid enough to want the job.”  Erma Bombeck

We have just finished the first round of primaries here in my quaint, little seaside village and man did it get ugly.  A personal friend was running for state government seat, someone I have known for twenty five plus years, who is an all around stand up good guy, along with his wife and kids….just really nice people, so this was kinda personal for me.  Imagine my dismay when my friend was being attacked in these ads with false and misleading information.

Let me introduce you to my little friend, the political action committee.  These PACs are like the back alley hit men of yesteryear, waiting patiently to take a lead pipe to the back of your knees to keep you from desired objective (or Olympic gold medal).

I’m reminded of a Pinterest funny that a friend posted a few days ago, “Whenever I’m extremely bored with life, I post a political status on Facebook and watch my friends battle it out like crips and bloods.”  Yep, that about sums it up.

But this is not where I reflect on my own political beliefs although I will interject that I find that neither side adequately represents whats important for our country at the national level,  they’re just too far detached from reality.

Back to my friends political race, I woke one morning and did my usual internet reading-national news, local news, yahoo, then Facebook.  An overnight article posting for local news talked about the latest ad that was going to be starting and the comments were dumbfounding.  People were calling my friend an anti-semite and any other vile comment they could think of.  I just couldn’t believe it.  Enter your back alley hitmen, the political action committee.  Today’s controversial political ads are run by PACs, not the campaign itself and it continues to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Which leads me to my next rant and why I’ve had to swear off the 24 hour news cycle.  Some of you may know that I am a home health nurse by trade, which means I go into people’s homes, take vital signs, review medications, and teach people about their disease.  One particular patient I was seeing was constantly battling high blood pressure and was in a constant state of low level agitation.  I thought and pondered on what could be bothering him until his wife lashed out one day while I was there and said, “Its that damn Foxnews, he keeps it on and watches it all day….”  Huh, well looky here, I might have an answer.  As we went through the education process of what high blood pressure was, what the long term effects to his health were, etc., etc. I challenged my patient to turn off the damn TV.  I told him (its my time and my job so I get to make the rules) that he was allowed 30 minutes of national news per day and 30 minutes of local news.  It was time to go back to the old traditional news gathering method of the 6 and 6:30 p.m. news.  For two days, he was to swear off Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, and no internet news.  Also, no Boortz, Limbaugh, or Hannity (see above for rules of job).  I told him that if I’m right about my suspicions, he’ll see a 20 to 30 point drop in his systolic blood pressure (top number).  You would have thought I just shot his dog by the look on his face.  “I can’t do that, I have to know whats going on, what will I do all day?”  “Read a book, do a puzzle, do something but if you want me to keep coming and help you get to feeling better, you’re going to have to meet me half way.”  Begrudgingly, he did as instructed.  I contacted the wife later that evening and she said he was pacing around the house like a tweaker looking for a fix, but she held firm.  When I returned to a quiet house two days later, I found him calm and relaxed and his blood pressure was lower by 20 points.  To confirm my suspicions I let him go back to the 24 hour news cycle and the same problem repeated itself.  So we discussed it again and basically I told him “look, being plugged in to this 24 hour news cycle is bad for your health, turn it off, its making you crazy and damaging your health.”  He agreed and by the time I discharged him he had kicked his news addiction.

More and more I am coming across people, mostly men, who are plugged in to this 24 hour news cycle and its making them ill as snakes.  I personally had to detach myself from all of it after the last election cycle because I was becoming mad, constantly.  It made me an unhappy person.   Once I figured it out, I myself, swore off of Fox News, Boortz, Limbaugh, and Hannity.  I was powerless beyond my vote and contacting my congressman to make a difference, so why expend all this energy.  I find myself occasionally checking in to see what stupidity has occurred but for the most part, I’ve gone back to the 6 and 6:30 news cycle.  All I need to know is right there in that one hour of time.  Each morning I check to make sure that we haven’t declared war on another third world country and that the world is still spinning as it should, but for the most part, I’m done with it.

“The beatings will continue ’til moral improves….”

Finally, A Muse

And if she were alive I’m not sure whether she would be pissed or flattered.  While remembering Phyllis Diller yesterday, she passed away at age 95, I was reminded of an author that I think my writing resembles and that is Erma Bombeck.

I’m not all for creating stories with plots and characters and all that unnecessary stuff.  I find that real life provides all the entertainment I need.  Beginning in the 1960’s, Erma Bombeck told the true story of what being a wife and mother was like.

I have not read any of her books in some time but its on the short list of things to do as her quotes will be the inspiration of my blog posts for awhile.  So here’s to you Mrs. Bombeck, I hope they didn’t bury you too close to the septic tank.

Ramblings from an Aspiring Writer

Since I won the Writer’s Den contest I have been trying to digest all of the information I now have access to.  Daunting to say the least.  But after a few weeks of reading and some failed attempts at obtaining some freelance work, its time to punt and reset the offense for another drive.

I freely admit that I started this odyssey in the content mills, and like a jacked up tweaker, I went cruising for a fix yesterday.  You see, yesterday was a bit of a challenge for with with multiple rejections from anonymous submissions over the last few days.  I don’t know why an email destroys my confidence so much.  Those that know me personally know that I have no lack of self confidence.  So why do I let this bother me?  I have no idea.

I decided last night to step back and devise a more concrete plan of action and write it down step by step.  Including my required reading before I set forth.  But for today, I must go forth and heal the masses in my own unique way.

On a different note, I just returned on Tuesday evening from a whirlwind trip to the mountains with my mother and daughter.  I’ve decided that my mother is my grandmother reincarnated, constantly fluttering around, piddling with her (non existent) household chores, washing dishes constantly and washing loads of laundry the moment they hit the floor.  It makes me a bundle of nerves because at any moment I feel she will wheel on me and scream “Why aren’t you doing anything?”  We drove to Highlands one day along the most narrow, seat sucking route I’ve ever experienced, including the times rock crawling with the Jeep club.  Once there I realize that it wasn’t much different than being in Florida with all the Atlanta yuppies fluttering around (apologies to my Atlanta yuppy friends), BMWs, Mercedes, and Land Rover’s were plentiful parked along the street.  Sorry mom, I’ve got to get out of here.  My daughter stayed gone most of the time with her cousin, cousin being a loose term defined by the distance kinship of her mother and I.

Off to see patients, hope you all have a wonderful day!

Home Health Nurse turned Turkey Hunter

In my travels I have seen my share of interesting and out of place animals.  I’ve managed to kill a few as well.  I cannot be held responsible for the mass suicide by the squirrels this past spring, I swear they would wait until I was on the street and driving before they decided it was time to “end it all”.

In recent weeks I have seen a few foxes.  I’ve not seen many foxes before and I just found it odd that I saw two in one week.  The same week I saw two tortoises that I managed to avoid hitting.  I turned green with envy last winter when, to my surprise, I turned a corner on a lonely country road and found a flock of turkeys.  At first I thought they were buzzards swarmed around some road kill but as I got closer I realized that it was the elusive North American wild turkey.

Why green with envy you ask?  Well, I’m a bit obsessed with it to be honest.  A quick channel surf on Saturday morning through the outdoor channels will reveal any number of fishing or hunting shows.  I could care less about white tail deer or large mouth bass, but if there’s a show about turkey hunting, I’m all over it.  But I am dismayed at all of the stealth and camouflage needed to bring down, what amounts to, a large chicken with a brain no larger than my big toe.  According to turkey hunters, the wild turkey is a cunning, elusive creature that has evaded many a skilled hunter.  In my world, I’ve seen turkeys standing on the side of the interstate and even had a flock move through my yard.

My dream is to have my turkey stuffed and standing by my door when guests enter my home so they can pat it on the head.  Then I will regale my audience with tales of wild hunts through swamps and woods so that I could bag the fierce beast you see before you.  I would barely make it out alive!

The reality is I have made very little head way in my quest to kill a wild turkey.  If I had been a little quicker that day I may have been able to impale one with my Jeep.  But in my pea brain, I was avoiding them since I figured they were buzzards and the last buzzard I hit left a greasy spot on my windshield (yes, I hit a buzzard).

But home health affords you the opportunity to meet a wide range of people and learn from their past experience.  I had the pleasure of serving and meeting such a man, a feared turkey hunter in my area.  After all the necessary work of my visit was complete, he would school me for several minutes on the necessities of getting my first turkey kill.  At the end of his care, he gave me a wing bone turkey call that he made himself a number of years ago along with a turkey paper target that I could practice on until it was time for me venture into the woods and get my first kill.

So next spring I shall venture forth with my camouflage, shotgun and turkey caller and get my first kill.  I shall endure hoards of mosquitoes, snakes and brambles and in the end, emerge victorious with my trophy bird.  My friends should prepare for stories of harrowing escapes and cunning stalking, you’ve been warned.