Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mississippi Melting

North Mississippi in the middle of August is unlike anywhere else on earth.  

The Colonel knows this because he has spent all or part of the month of August on every continent save Antarctica. 

August, here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, is a dry, yet muggy, green-going-dusty brown, withering kudzu-clad hell. 

It's the Colonel's favorite place on this big blue marble, but it is hell in August, nonetheless.

Holy scripture describes Hell as a place where "their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched."

Yep.  That's Mississippi in August, alright.

There was a time, long ago, in the halcyon days of his not-so misspent youth, that the Colonel relished the sweat-soaked sauna of a long run in the noon-time heat of August.

Introduced to that running ritual whilst matriculating at the cultural center of the southern universe -- Ole Miss -- the Colonel sought, self-abusively, to recreate the endorphin rush that accompanies pushing the body to the edge of heat stroke in whatever locale he was presently, if not pleasantly, posted.   

August in the piney hills of Quantico, Virginia is ugly with a heat and humidity combo that has driven generations of Marine officer, and FBI agent, candidates to the brink of dehydrated dementia.

But, it ain't Mississippi.

Camp Lejeune, North Carolina simmers in the summer.

But, it don't cook like Mississippi.

Macon, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama are the twin sisters of August -- Misery and Agony.

But, their blues don't match Mississippi's.

North Africa is hot in August.  Well, North Africa is hot in every month with a letter in it's name.

But, Tunisia and Morocco could take lessons in heat-induced listlessness from Mississippi.

Panama has two seasons -- hot and dry, and hot and wet.  But, Panama wraps in you in constant, year-round blanket of skin and blood-thinning warmth.  

North Mississippi whipsaws you from one extreme to another, with an oh-so-brief, tender, loving lull of glorious, worshipful weather between.   One month it's winter, the next it's hell. 

Thailand and the Philippines are just plain sticky.  But, they're sticky all the time.

It gets so awfully hot in Mississippi in August that "sticky" would be a relief.

Hawaii?  Okinawa?  Seoul?  Toulon?  Perth?  Diego Garcia?  Denmark?  Hong Kong?  Singapore?  Naples?  Vieques?  


Y'all ain't got nuthin'!

It is so hot, and miserable, and muggy, and oppressive, and stultifying (had to find a word to make the Colonel's Mississippi State grad brother break out his dictionary) this week in North Mississippi that the Colonel has suspended all outside operations, indefinitely.

Until the weather breaks, the Colonel is just going to stay inside and write bad things about it.             

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Math at Ole Miss

Forty years ago this week, the Colonel packed his meager belongings in the same trunk his father had taken to college a quarter century earlier.  As a vagabond military brat, he had learned to keep his stuff stacked short and tight.  Nearly everything he needed  -- clothing, linens, radio, and a few favorite books -- fit in the trunk.

The two-hour ride with the folks from Columbus to Oxford was a quiet one.  

The Gregory's oldest was off to college.  

Well..., Ole Miss.

The Colonel and his father lugged the trunk into the elevator of his eleven story dorm on the edge of campus.  

Another student joined them in the elevator.  In his arms was a turn table and a box of vinyl albums.

The old Air Force noncom couldn't resist, "Got your noise with ya, huh?"

The kid tossed a mop of blond hair with jerk of his head and answered semi-politely, "Yessir."  His voice was thick with Mississippi.

The Colonel's family had only just returned from a 4 1/2 year posting to the Panama Canal Zone that summer.  The last time he had spent any time in his parents' home state had been nearly a decade earlier.  Mississippi was as foreign to the Colonel as Panama had seemed at the beginning of that tour of duty.  

The Mississippi accent was going to take some getting used to.  

Particularly when attached to a female.

The Colonel's mother was a southern lady to be sure, but she never laid the mouth honey on like those girls at Ole Miss did.

The first week at Ole Miss was the most disorienting of the Colonel's life to that point.  Panama had been culture shock.  Ole Miss was cultured shock.

It became rapidly and readily apparent that he didn't exactly fit at Ole Miss.

His wardrobe was wrong -- jeans and a "hang-ten" shirt had been fine in Panama, but lagged seriously in the race for best-dressed at Ole Miss.

His accent was wrong -- if the Colonel heard "Where are you from?" once that week, he heard it a thousand times.

His verbal expressions were wrong -- "aiee, chuleta!" wasn't a common phrase in the deep south in 1974.  It's becoming one now, but that's grist for another post. 

The Colonel had erroneously thought he was going to just another public university.  

Wrong!  Oh, so wrong!

He wasn't going to college.  The Colonel was going to Ole Miss.

Turns out there were many students there on the most beautiful college campus in all the wide world who were learning to swim in a different cultural current just like the Colonel.  

Owing to the relatively low expense of attending the University of Mississippi, the Department of the Navy in those days steered a great many of the young men and women awarded Naval ROTC scholarships to Ole Miss.  While some of these folks were steeped in the southern culture, in general, and Mississippi culture, specifically; most were in the same boat as the Colonel.  

The Colonel became, for the first time in his life, part of a "counter-culture."

It wouldn't be the last time he belonged to an organization whose ethos ran decidedly against the common grain.

As one of our group put it years later, "We loved Ole Miss, but Ole Miss didn't love us."

The Colonel couldn't wait to graduate and put Ole Miss in the rear view mirror.

And as soon as he did, he couldn't wait to get back.

Ole Miss had marked him, claimed him, chained him.

The Colonel never told anyone he had gone to the University of Mississippi.  He went to Ole Miss

And now the Colonel realizes that his diversity helped change Ole Miss a little bit, too.  

But, the Colonel's diversity didn't subtract from the spirit, traditions, and unique culture of Ole Miss -- it added.

He didn't demand that folks speak or dress or act more like him. But, he taught a lot of folks about the world outside of Mississippi. The Colonel dares to say that there are literally hundreds of Ole Miss grads out there who can tell you a little bit about the Panama Canal Zone, and Morocco, and life as a military brat, courtesy of the Colonel. 

Ultimately, we all want change.  The trick is to change by addition, not subtraction.   




Thursday, July 31, 2014

Love Letter

The Colonel begs your permission to dispense, for the duration of this post, with his customary use of the third person (or, as the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda refers to it, the literary version of nails on a chalkboard).  

I have something personal to say to my wife.

I want to tell my wife of thirty-eight years, as of roughly 30 minutes ago, that you have always been the best thing in my life.  That's saying something, because God has blessed me with many, many, very good things.

You have almost always been the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning, and almost always the last thing I think of when I go to sleep.

Why almost?

Well, I'd be telling a lie if didn't admit to, on the very rare occasion, thinking about the opening day of duck season or the game-winning field goal as I woke up or fell asleep.

Not gonna let a stupid duck or some lucky college kid make a liar out of me.

You have almost always been the first person with whom I've wanted to share a secret or a remarkable sight.

Almost, because there were a couple of secrets and sights to which I was privy over the years that I would just as soon forget.  

The one sight I will never forget was you, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, walking down the aisle to marry me.

To marry me!

I cannot ever get over just how lucky I am that you are mine. 

Luckier than a bob-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

Luckier than the second mouse to the cheese.

Luckier than a bug in a traffic jam.

Just so you know, Miss Brenda; it may have been an incredibly lucky stroke that made you mine, but there ain't nuthin' or nobody lucky (or strong) enough to take you away from me. 

You are my anchor.

If I had a muse (or knew what a muse was), you would be it.

I love you more than anything -- duck hunting and Ole Miss football included.

I love your smile, your laugh, your pout, your frown; I love the way you can do all four in the space of one breath.

You are the one person in all the world I trust without condition.  

You hold my heart in your hands.

Thirty-eight years.  

I want to live to ninety-six -- just so I can have thirty-eight more.