06022011 Yazoo – a Hignite Original Story

Below is a story written by my childhood friend Mike. He wrote it a few years ago and it is one of the best examples of nostalgia short story form that I’ve ever read. Not only because I’m involved, either. I later did a revised version, but this one is the simplest and most direct.

It was the summer of 1981. Reagan was in the White House, Styx was on the radio, and I was about to enter junior high school, about to cross that bridge from elementary school just like the Billy Goats Gruff. The promises of junior high school, with its class changes, personal lockers, real sports teams, and cheerleaders, beckoned like the green grass of the far meadow. The threats of junior high trolls- adolescence, puberty, and ninth graders- were nowhere in sight yet, especially on that hot August day. What was in sight was a financial quandary. I needed twenty dollars to rent a trumpet to participate in band, which was another cool thing about junior high school. A kid could be in a real band with a real instrument making real music, and I’m not talking about one of those plastic flutophone-recorder gadgets from grade school, either. Real instruments.

The only problem, however, was that my mother did not have twenty dollars. I know, because I pestered her until I was sure that she was not withholding the money to keep her house noise-free. She remembered quite well the flutophone days. I had no other prospects lined up, and I certainly didn’t have that sort of cash stashed away anywhere. Things looked bleak to be sure. Then, like a messenger from Heaven above, my dear friend, Bobby, came to my door to announce that my problems were solved. Bobby was a couple of years older and already in band. Bobby did not need the money for instrument rental, however, because he played the French horn. The French horn is a school-owned instrument, with no rental fee required. He told me that we had been offered a job that would pay us each twenty dollars, exactly. All we had to do was mow five acres with a high-wheeled Yazoo mower. Five acres, a push mower, and twenty bucks apiece, I thought. What could go wrong?

Five acres, you say? I exaggerate not. These five acres were on the side of hill, too. I mean really on the side of a hill. I am not telling some “when I was in school we walked to and from in the snow uphill both ways with old men throwing rocks at us” story, either. And if you aren’t familiar with the Yazoo push mower, suffice to say it is probably the heaviest push mower made. Mowing with a Yazoo is like pushing a Chevette. But with visions of financial gain and future trumpet glory, Bobby and I accepted the job.

On the first day of mowing, we arrived at the homestead and got to work right away. Five acres does not mow itself. All day long we mowed, one pushing the Yazoo while the other rested, switching when the first got tired. We mowed. We mowed forever. It was the longest day of mowing that I have ever known. As heavy as the Yazoo was, it seemed to gain weight as it ate each strip of grass. Each strip was hopelessly thin however, and progress was slow. If only the cutting width of the mower matched the length of the machine, then we could have finished in a third of the time. It became dreadfully obvious that the Yazoo, while a fine mower, was not the best choice to push mow five acres with.

Finally, the day was coming to a close as the sun started to lower in the west. We had only succeeded in mowing about half of the five acres. Weary from the day of labor and daunted by another day of the same, we decided to take a break. I couldn’t help think that the builders of the pyramid had it easier than we did. I was willing to bet that the rocks they moved were lighter than the Yazoo we were pushing. We stood exhausted near the top of a steep slope that was near the north end of the property, overlooking a small creek that bordered the estate. We rested comfortably after a hard day’s work, but little did we know that a near-death experience was waiting for me at the bottom of that hill.

I have tried in retrospect to determine just how the discussion between Bobby and me came about, but I can’t remember how or who or when the question of debate arose. I only know that a theory was proposed, either by Bobby or me, that a person could ride on top of the Yazoo mower down the hill, jump off of said Yazoo, and stop the Yazoo from plummeting into the creek below. A part of me believes that I was duped into defending the belief that it could be done. Whether that is true or not can only be answered by Bobby, but he either does not remember or does not want to disclose such a thing. After a time of spirited debate, it became apparent that a real life test was needed to settle the argument and determine a victor in the dispute. As I was the advocate that the feat could be accomplished, I was the obvious candidate for test pilot.

I climbed atop the Yazoo and sat upon the motor. The sweat forming on my brow was not from the heat of the August day. I was internally trying to find a way to bow out of the experiment. Bobby, sensing my second thoughts, quickly challenged me with words that no self-respecting twelve year-old can back down from. My fate was quickly sealed as I gave a gentle push with one foot to get the Yazoo going. As the red mower quickly picked up speed and rocketed down the hill, I learned three things: No other mower would “handle” as well as the Yazoo with the high wheels in the rear, no man in history has ever traveled as fast on a Yazoo push mower as I was, and NO MAN, EVER, could ride the mower to the bottom of the hill, jump off, and keep the Yazoo from flying into the creek.

The mind is capable of great thought in time of approaching peril. I realized quite quickly that I had left out an important factor in my earlier argument. The Yazoo was not mine. And though I knew that I could not stop the Yazoo, I knew I must try. I had a terrifying glimpse of my future in which I would have to mow these same soul-eating acres for the rest of my life to pay for Yazoo. The bottom of the hill rushed at me, precious seconds lost. At the bottom of the hill, I jumped off of the mower, and grabbed for the handle. With speed and grace and skill that I have yet to match in my lifetime, I was able to successfully dismount the machine and grab the handle. Instant joy turned to instant horror as the Yazoo jerked my 115-pound body horizontal to the ground. A bystander viewing the scene at that split second might have marveled at the sight of a flying Yazoo push mower and the airborne young boy trailing quickly after it. Thankfully, I was unable to hold on to the mower, which flew over the six-foot drop into the creek below.

I turned to look at the top of the hill. My former friend was gasping for breath in a silent scream of laughter. I had to make a choice: Return to the top of the hill and beat him to death or save the Yazoo from a watery grave. I decided to kill Bobby later as I slipped down into the creek below. Luckily, the water was only a couple of feet deep. I tried in vain to push the mower up the steep face of the drop-off, but 115-pound boys cannot push Yazoo mowers straight up a cliff of six feet. Bobby had since made his way to the bottom of the hill. The tears streaming down his face were not in sympathy for me, and every time he regained any semblance of composure, a mental replay of the event would start the laughing fit once again. I turned the Yazoo down-stream and waded the mower to a low bank where I was able to get the mower back on the ground it was meant to mow.

The Yazoo would not start. “My God in Heaven,” I thought. “I will have to mow this stupid five acres for the rest of my life: My own personal Purgatory to pay for a push mower.” I quietly pushed the Yazoo up on the porch of the residence. Luckily, the owner was not home, and my mother picked us up minutes later. My wet clothes were explained by a voluntary swim in the creek to cool off from a long day of work. She seemed to buy the story. The story I would have to sell the next day would not be bought as quickly. I had already planned to play dumb as to the reason the Yazoo suddenly didn’t work. “Worked fine yesterday,” I would say, with a stupid twelve year-old look on my face. Bobby, who shared half of the guilt, agreed to stick with the same story. The Yazoo had just died in its sleep, or so we wanted the owner to believe. We thought it might work, as there was not visible damage from the ride. The story was our only chance.

I did not fall asleep easily that night. I practiced my lines until finally the exhaustion caught up with me, and I slept. The ride to the estate the next day was like a slow walk to the principal’s office. The homeowner had already left for the day, so all of my rehearsing would have to wait. Just to go through the motions, we pulled the cord of the mower. In true Yazoo fashion, it started right up and mowing continued, with a joyous and thankful heart I might add. I learned later that a wet spark plug had been to blame. An eternity later, the five acres was finished and twenty dollars each was paid. No mention of the Yazoo land speed record was said to the owner of the land and the mower. Nor was this tale told for many years after. God had saved me from death and debt, just like He usually does. I also learned many other things from the experience, including the toughness of a Yazoo, the importance of thinking things through, and the beauty of the French horn. It’s a school-owned instrument you know.


 

07072013 “A Pretty Girl From Little Sugar Creek” A Book by James Huffman

A Pretty Girl From Little Sugar Creek

The following is what I wrote on Amazon, serving as a review of the book:
“…Whether you are a history buff or simply enjoy heart-felt stories, James Huffman has compiled an artfully executed and eloquently-spun book of memories about one of his relatives as she grew up in the Ozarks.

Instead of focusing on arcane details, the author weaves emotion, historical fact and simple language into a written image of what life was like for one little girl growing up in the depression era. Unlike a true biography, the book captures the love and mysteries of her youth without losing any magic by being historically true.

Were someone to attempt a telling of my life, I would hope that the story would be as compelling as this author’s tale.

Even though the book is obviously a labor of love for the author, anyone with an open heart will enjoy this book. As you read this book, you will find yourself imagining that your family would have been lucky to have grown up with a similar story..”

I’ve written a few other people, trying to get attention for the book. Jim published the book in 2011. I’m not sure how it got past me, but it is a gem of a book. It is rare to find anything historically accurate that touches the heart strings. Most books become bogged down by overly-immersing the tale in details. Maybe it is Jim’s academic and pastoral experience that has tempered his writing style.

Get a good cup of coffee and a quiet corner somewhere and read this book. It will make your day better and also probably inspire you to try to be as simply eloquent as possible.

01102013 It’s a Learning Process

Without specifically mentioning anyone, I’ve learned a little over the last week.

People are so insistent on bending circumstances to their particular viewpoint. (Me, included, I am afraid.)

The ability to let things flow without categorizing, judging or condemnation is a rare trait.

As smart as I might ever become, I would rather opt for acceptance and ‘presence’ in people’s lives than being right.

“No one is ever right. Even if they are, they are still often wrong.” – X
 (You can quote me on that one.)

Living Wills or Healthcare Power of Attorney

It’s that time again, the time when I ask everyone if they have a living will or power of attorney in the event of a tragedy or emergency.

Almost without fail, the answer is ‘no.’

Without one, you are going to be at the whim of whomever is around at the time. It probably won’t be the person you trust the most, the doctor you like, or your best friend. It will likely be the sister you loathe, or the mother who abandoned you fifteen years ago in another violent fit of rage.

(Sidenote: In a society which incorporates organ donation with the ability to drive, I would like to know why we don’t have a default system in place for living wills and all similar tools to help us live and die as we wish.)

Seeing families argue, sometimes with great abandon and anger, over the guilt-filled issue of whether someone should be put on life support, be administered CPR or any other critical question has only hardened my opinion further.

Here’s the secret: most people want NO extraordinary efforts to save them if they are older or if they are so physically damaged that they will never live a normal life. Our fear of death or disability is so entrenched that it clouds our ability to make decisions in advance of the need. While most people don’t wish to be put on life support with almost no hope of recovery, their guilt almost universally makes them unable to say so when they are deciding for their loved ones.

We prolong our loved ones lives, praying and hoping for a miracle, most of time while knowing that they would prefer to be let go. In many cases, some of us would rather be ‘medicated’ into a relaxed death, even though we might survive in the strictest sense of the word.

There is no shame in letting a person die as they wish.

The shame is that so many of us haven’t taken a moment to ensure than no one has to stress about what to do with us as medical emergencies happen. If my head is smashed in and I’m in a coma or brain dead, doctors might be able to save me. But at what cost? I’m just one human being among billions. People will miss me. But I would rather them miss me at the end of a normal run of life, not at the long, torturous end of a medially-prolonged trauma.

09082013 A List of Warnings About Writing Anything


This post will be edited and reposted infrequently, both as a reminder to anyone reading and as a warning to me. Especially for those of you who might have family, friends, or enemies. (These 3 categories are often indistinguishable!)

We are all subject to fatigue, brain farts (medical terminology – sorry), inattention, sloppy thinking, etc. Mistakes will happen, words will escape our grasp, and meanings will be implied that weren’t supposed to be. 

Sometimes, even when you are willing to write perfectly, you simply lose the initiative and get lazy. Infrequently, this type of writing turns out to be the simplest possible method of expressing yourself – but you won’t recognize lazy writing as great until after you start to revise it.

Even the best writers sometimes fail at adequately expressing ideas.

Everything written can and will be taken out of context. And when you least expect it. And in the worst possible way of interpreting it. If you write a few words about why you dislike licorice, your words will be later applied to indicate that you hate small children and drink your own urine.

Sometimes, what we write is used in context and still wrongly interpreted, either through malice on the part of the reader, or through inadequate writing.

Every reader constantly has active “filters” affecting the meaning of words. Not all such filters can be avoided by stellar writing. (A crazy person can pick up your words and falsely believe that you are threatening their lives. Argument to the contrary doesn’t appease the crazy person – it only serves to amplify the belief of the paranoia.)

Continuing to attempt to explain an idea after a reader or listener has expressed hostility or less-than-gentlemanly response is a waste of time. You can’t “win” once this occurs. Stop trying.

Being right is an illusion. Just as when you were younger you falsely believed your ideas and actions to be correct, you aged and discovered that many of your ideas, actions, and beliefs were probably just dumb. This process is still going on – but you can’t see it. That’s part of the human condition.

Even on a very specific subject, people who have studied the subject exclusively their entire lives cannot agree totally. This is true with hard sciences and it is doubly true for “soft”  or subjective ideas. Someone is wrong – and usually everyone is wrong to a certain degree. Including me. And you, too.

Since everyone knows that I preach that it’s okay to change your mind if you’ve learned something new or experience something honest or new in your life… be prepared for the infinite shelf life of the modern written word. You might have espoused horrible ideas when young and later recognized the error of your ways. When you’re 35, however, don’t be surprised when a self-serving asshat uses what you once believed is current evidence of your stupidity, vileness, etc. They’ll quote you at  your worst possible moment. That you no longer believe it will be irrelevant.

Waiting until you are perfectly able to express yourself usually means you’ll never get around to it. 

Dealing With Our Mortality

While etiquette and courtesy demand an all-inclusive list of “thank yous” to each every person who has brought food, flowers or favor, I would ask that we throw that convention out the window. Most people I know who go through the death of a loved one are trying to avoid drowning in life. Factor in the supposed requirement of “thank yous” and the potential for stress, guilt and ruined future relationships increases dramatically. If someone has forgotten to thank you for something you have done, especially following a death, please consider yourself lucky that you aren’t the one who experienced the loss. If you care about the person grieving at all, you will ‘forgive’ them immediately with no further thought or comment about the supposed injustice done to you by the lack of an appropriate thank you.  If you help a person following a death, please consider your act, gift, or assistance to be reward and acknowledgement enough.  While it is true that a grieving person should lean on family for assistance with mundane details, I ask that you step back and assume that grief is almost killing the person who is suffering. The family and friends should be more focused on keeping grief from overwhelming their loves ones. The endless tasks and details of life have their place and I would hope that everyone could try to keep these things in proper perspective. We are all just renting space on the face of this planet. It will one day be our passing keeping our friends and family from moving joyously forward. Let the non-essentials fade to the background and allow shared moments with family and friends take precedence.

This post isn’t about the philosophical meanderings of what ‘it means,’ or even what is important.

Most of our lives are spent with the mundane, trivial aspects of life. More so than the epic moments, the quiet moments experienced minute to minute tend to become our lives and define us. It’s not the shouts; rather, it is the whispers which fill our lives with love, hope, and meaning. A quiet “I love you” when you make eye contact while washing the dishes, the smile of a child laughing at someone ridiculous, or even a shared eye roll at some minor stupidity constantly witnessed in our modern lives: these things are the bulk of our lives, not the proud majestic Kodak moments. 

For those who haven’t experienced horrible loss or the incremental loss of someone you love due to illness, it is hard to imagine what it is like on the other side of the fence. Words as always don’t encapsulate either the agony or the ecstasy of being pushed toward coming to terms with the end.

When news reaches our ears of the passing or impending passing of someone once dear to us, our heart swells, as we don’t like the reminder that life proceeds whether we are here to mock it or not. One day, it will soon be upon us to face it, without opportunity to veto or delay its arrival.

While the temptation to overload someone who is dying is almost insurmountable, each of us needs to stop for a moment and ponder what it must be like for not only the person dying but for those who are closest to them. The urge is to immediately reach out, flood the phones with emails, texts, and calls.

Please give those who are caring for the dying the benefit of the doubt if they try to slow down the barrage of visitors, phone calls, texts, and social media. If you are a friend or family member, try to devise a strategy so that those closest aren’t being sucked into an infinite loop of information texts, phone calls, emails, and social media. Two or three key people can more adequately manage the flood of people contacting the family.

While we know that we are overloading those involved, we can’t help ourselves. But we must try. If a person has 100 friends and family, you should stop and think of how long it would take to talk to each and every one of them for even thirty minutes. Upon hearing of someone’s passing, please think about how difficult it must be to carry on. While we need to hear and see words of well-being from those we love after losing someone, we also need quiet time.

I ask anyone who is losing someone close to constantly think of the balance we all need. We all want to see expressions of love and care, but also desperately want long moments of silence and interruptions, moments where we can choose to come out of the shell and be involved with people-when we are ready.

Instead of offering to help when needed, take pro-active steps immediately. Whether it is money to help with bills, funerals and expenses, gift cards for groceries. taking someone’s laundry to ease that household burden, doing errands: focus on “I’m helping” instead of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” The person suffering with illness and death almost has no ability to prioritize. Let your compassion lead you to decide how best to step in and help without being asked. Most of us still feel guilty about asking for any assistance, even when we truly need it and even when we are drowning in sadness and life. 

Not Voting Does Not Equal Required Silence

By way of introduction, I have never been one to criticize those who choose to not vote. A decision to not vote is not necessarily a dumb one and anyone who criticizes those who don’t vote is guilty of a horrible intellectual mistake.

Then again, even a cursory examination of my choices in life proves that I don’t have a clue about what in blazes I’m doing.

We have all heard the refrain all of our lives: “If you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to your opinion.” Please add this to the list of goofy things people say because they don’t have a better or more logical argument for you. Other than it is a factually goofy thing to say, it violates the very idea of our republic. Each of us has the option to choose our level of participation in all aspects of the governance of our society.

I admit that having a cynical attitude is a terrible justification for failing to vote. However, many people have legitimate reasons for arriving at their opinions about voting and the political process.

I vote. You won’t hear me disparaging those who choose not to, though, even when it is easy or glibly done.

Who has the biggest impact: someone who votes but can’t effectively voice their opinions and influence those around them OR non-voters who are very articulate and convincing? A motivated non-voter can do more damage to a political cause by using his intelligence to negate the appeal of a candidate or ideal.I concede that most non-voters tend to be apolitical and apathetic. But some non-voters are adept at making some interesting appeals to people who do vote.

Since I am rambling, I have noticed in my personal experience that the ones who grumble most at non-voters tend to be conservatives rather than liberal. It might be a bias in my mind, but I am careful about listening when I hear someone berating a non-voter trying to voice an opinion.

I try to remind people that registering to vote is a good thing, if only so that you can sign petitions and participate in other aspects of the system. If you aren’t a registered voter, you lose your voice in the petition process. It’s an important one these days.

When I was younger, I was caught up way too much in the political machinations and stupidity of it. My personal opinions about any specific thing weren’t that important in the scheme of things. I realized that getting irritated or worrying or arguing about politics was nothing more than a means to literally waste my life. Now, I enjoy watching other people stress and go grey-headed over things that they have very little ability to affect. I still admire people who can get out and try to get their opinions across, though.

If you can’t or don’t vote, don’t let people attempt to silence you. You do have the ability to keep talking, writing and participating. Voting is a small part of participating in our society’s system of politics.

Truthfully, I’m not sure that your money donated toward the political cause of your choice doesn’t have more impact than your vote.

P.S. Up to 2.5% of our adult population can’t vote simply because their states have stripped them of the right to vote under the ‘rules’ of criminal voter disenfranchisement. (Even if they’ve done their time, made amends, and are productive members of society.)

Prank / Fun Decoration Ideas

While it might not be traditional, one of the many things on my list of “what I would love to do” where I live is to use my “body outline” and “blood splatter” ideas to decorate my house.

If I had a large wooden plank porch, nothing would stop me from having a very well-drawn crime scene body outline on painted on the porch near the main entrance to the house. For visitors, it would be a warning to not expect normalcy from the residents inside. It certainly would be a great talking point, too. (By the way, I think a nice added touch would be to have the outline of the head a couple of feet away from the main torso, to evoke a beheaded crime scene.)

The blood splatter idea would incorporate exactly what it sounds like it would: red paint. I think the biggest impact for the blood splatter pattern would be to done in a white or lighter-colored room. You could get people you know to come help “spray and splatter” the room with the red paint, too. It would be a fun thing to do. Thinking about it, it would be another opportunity to use a crime scene body outline, too.

Finally, I would love to have a fake mouse hole either on the outside wall near the main door or in the living room. It of course would have the fictional mouse’s name on the door with other little details to make the effect realistic. Imagine how that would delight kids visiting your house. 
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01292013 Polygamy

While polygamy is not something I would every personally endorse or participate in, I don’t see how it is our business if everyone involved is consenting. Likewise, if a woman wishes to have more than one husband, it is not my business to dictate to the consenting parties that it not happen. Except for a marriage license, multiple people can already live as man and wives or wife and husbands – by cohabitation, pooling resources and living together. And it’s legal, except for the “license.”

Again, going to the most-cited moral authority, polygamy was favored in the bible and still practiced when the new testament was written. I won’t bore you with the countless citations. If you disagree that the bible did condone it, stop reading – there’s no point trying to get into your head.

Are there legal issues with having more than one spouse? Yes. Does it make it difficult to navigate with multiple spouses? Yes, of course. Given that our society is rife with failed marriages, open marriages, etc, how is it more reprehensible to have multiple spouses than to have an open marriage when 1 or both parties have active sex lives outside of the marriage. There are already people in your community with a wife and husband and mistresses. There are plural marriages, even if they are so defined in the spirit of the word rather than the legality of its implication.

Why do Americans think that we have the ability to allow or regulate polygamy when it is between consenting adults? Because that is what is beaten into our heads. We didn’t reach this state through logic and understanding.

We reached it because it is too different from the expected norm of society.

We routinely tolerate or idolize those who have multiple partners, whether through marriage or mistress, as the saying goes.

The hypocrisy is on our part for condemning it, especially those whose roots branch from traditional Christianity.

08052012 The Drug War

In case I skip this topic, I am almost entirely against “the drug war,” as understood generally.

Before further comment, I’d like to point out that I have never even smoked marijuana, much less injected anything or snorted. I don’t have to worry about someone coming out of the woodwork alleging that I secretly used drugs – it’s never happened. In the interest of fairness, I had wanted to try marijuana, but couldn’t find the right circumstances. The potential risk of being tested after trying it were too great for me. I doubt that my employer would believe that I had done it just once to see what all the fuss was about. While it would be true, people who use drugs once are lumped together with hardcore users.

Many of our freedoms have been eroded by pushing them under the banner of drug eradication. Asset forfeiture is a great example of this type of lunacy. Imprisoning such a large potion of our population is another.

For addicts, focus and money should be on treatment, not punitive consequences, including jail.

Jailing someone for no “crime” other than using a banned substance serves no societal good, other than to condition the criminal mindset, build more jails, etc. Again, I am NOT advocating no consequences for drug-related crimes, just not for the drugs themselves. I’ve got the same mentality for gun-related crime, terror-related crime, etc – they are all crimes, regardless of their associations. Crimes should be judged based on their harm to other people.

Yes, we should pay for the treatment. All of it. To argue that we can’t or shouldn’t denies the cost we are supporting now. It’s ridiculous.

If a person is using an illegal substance (whatever that is) and there are no substantial consequences to other people, we need to stay out of their business. However, if you are driving and impaired, the legal consequences should be equal to those of alcohol, which I’m not too sympathetic toward.

I can understand the need for many people to want to punish drug users. But it serves no greater good. Not everyone who wants punishment for drug users is motivated out of self-righteous – but some are.

If your drug habit is leading you to further crime, yes you should be held accountable for the crime independently of the drugs. And treated. But drug use shouldn’t be permitted as a method to reduce your accountability.

And I can be quite often wrong.