Friday, February 07, 2014

Something I Wasn't Going to Write About...

...I'm from the South...not the "New South," but the lost South of a different generation, maybe from a different universe. So yes, I can tell funny stories about moonshiners and haints and violence that by today's standards would be breathtaking...or terrifying. I once wrote a piece for Esquire, back before Esquire became a sad collection of poofs — remember, back in the day Esquire was the only mainstream media that did a fair and honest profile of Col. Jeff Cooper — on Charlie Daniels and the soul of the South.


I wrote that Charlie Daniels was, like me, a product of the Old South, and that time laid  very differently there. I told the story of when I was a kid, on a bet, I'd walked out on the girders of an old railroad bridge over the Mississippi River at flood in Memphis.While I was out there like an idiot balancing over the black water, I looked upriver and and there was fire lighting up the sky, and I could see people on a boat, silhouetted against the flames, jumping into the river. I swear I could hear the screams, then a huge explosion. I frantically got off the old bridge, raced to my grandparents and told them there was a fire on the river. My grandmother laughed. "Honey," she said, "it's just that old riverboat that burned up...everybody sees it. Ain't really there, so those people are already gone."

For the record, the steamship Sultana exploded and burned on the river outside of Memphis April 28, 1865, the greatest maritime disaster in American history. The print above is from Harper's Weekly. Everybody's seen it, doncha know. I could tell you more, but, heck you'd probably think I was crazier than you already think I am. Charlie Daniels and I sat in his wonderful house in Tennessee many many years ago and talked about stuff like that, and quarter horses, and Bob Dylan, and Charlie's collection of vintage Winchesters.

I bring this up because last night, my cat Pokke-san jumped on the bed. He's the loudest cat you can imagine...I woke up when he was running up the stairs. Then I felt him land on the bed. He walked up to my Sweetie's face, sniffing like he always does. Of course, she was deeply asleep and didn't wake up. Then he came over to me...I could feel his paws on my chest, as I have so many times before over the last 8 years. I could feel his soft fur on my face. Then he made a soft noise, somewhere between a purr and a growl, and it sounded so very very sad. I was awake, but I didn't open my eyes, because of course my cat, Pokke-san, is dead. I heard him jump off the bed and head down the stairs, so I clicked on a Streamlight and sat up. Alf the Wonder Beagle was at the foot of our bed, standing rigidly, her hackles up. Dogs know things.

I picked her up and put her on our bed. Then I sat on the side of the bed for a while and thought about the Sultana.


14 comments:

Jason Boehm said...

My wife says she would occasionally see her long gone cat Pandora. I know how important our pets are. They are loved like the members of the family they are. I cannot diminish your loss but I can offer this. Our pets have our love and they love us. They have no knowledge of their mortality as we do. I think that's the best thing in the world. Kind of makes me wish I was my dog, the lucky beast.

Anonymous said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean Michael - both regarding the loss of a pet, and knowing the ways of the "Old South" - as I too grew up there in a time long since passed. And I know the spiritual/ethereal ways of that long ago time (just as there are times I miss it so - but not all of it by any means).
And, re: pets, I lost a 205 lb Newfoundland some 15 years back. He was 14 upon his passing, and we'd had him since he was 4 mos. old. He stood by me through 7-8 years of multiple neck & back surgeries, refusing to leave my side. And upon his passing I could do no less. To this day, I swear I can hear his distinctive bark at night - and feel his presence at my bedside. I dream of him often & miss him dearly - so much so my wife & I haven't had the heart to replace him with another. He was the last of four we once had altogether, and our favorite.
One day, we must get together and swap stories of the "Old South". (There's a Tom T. Hall song in my head about old dogs and such - but I simply can't conjur it up).

Gunny

Joe H said...

Michael,
When you were telling us about Pokke-san I was crying along with you. My basset, Sammy, passed this past June from heart disease. He was my partner in crime for 7 years, and I miss him every day. I still feel him and occasionally hear what I know to be him following me around. They say it gets easier in time. We'll see how long it takes. Stay strong, and thank you for all that you do for all of us. I hope you have a good weekend. Joe

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DamDoc said...

We lost our lab of 12 years to cancer about 7 years back a couple days after Christmas... Within a couple of months of his death, my wife an I both, separately and on several occasions clearly saw his face under a low branch white pine, where he would always lay long before the cancer.. It can make us cry to this day.. Our current lab lies in exactly the same place now, even in the snow.. something we have long found kind of comforting...

Anonymous said...

Sultana catastrophe.... INJackson is probably not aware of this:

James H. Jackson, 40th Indiana Infantry, Company H, killed April 27, 1865 when the steam boat “Sultana” exploded on the Mississippi River bringing Union P.O.W.’s home. James was captured at battle of Franklin Tennessee Nov. 1864, and held at Cahaba, aka Castle Morgan, prison camp.

jil said...

Michael...you are still one of my most favorite story tellers...so glad you have not lost your touch...would love to catch up...Jil

Anonymous said...

One of the most interesting, thought provoking posts, Michael. I don't think you the least bit crazy. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Mike,

My grandfather died when I was 7. He is buried in the local National Cemetery ... although I have never visited. I don't need to; grandpa talks to me now and then and gives me pretty good advice 37 years later. The only thing missing is the ability to sit down and have a fine scotch with him. Perhaps that comes later.

Dan

floriorules said...

If anyone knows how to get a copy of the February, 1981 Esquire Magazine that contained the article "Shooting to Kill" by Peter A. Lake that mentioned Jeff Cooper that would be most helpful.

PegLeg45 said...

Great post, MB....Thanks for using the term "haints"....these days folks look at me crazily when I use it.

The Freeholder said...

Michael, those of us fortune enough to know the Old South know that when you live close to the land, you simply see things that others do not see and you perceive things others do not perceive. There is no scientific explanation for it that I know of, but in my mind that makes it no less true.

You've seen the Sultana and Poke-san has returned to say hello and let you know things are going well with him. In my life, I've seen a grandfather and an uncle, heard my father call my name (I believe in warning) and seen two of my cats, Ricky and Lucy. These things aren't frightening and they don't mean we're losing it. They simply are, and some of us are tuned to see them.

I feel sorry for those who don't have these experiences.

Rob Reed said...

Here's where you can get a copy of the Feb 1981 Esquire

http://backissues.com/issue/Esquire-February-1981