Where Did Cubs’ Mojo Go?

A word I use with increasing regularity these days is DONE.

That’s done, as in the last year or two I was working as a sportswriter, I was DONE. I endeavored to put in an honest day’s work, and I feel my experience and network of contacts and friends allowed me to, more often than not, do so. But long before I retired a year ago August, I was DONE.

That’s done, as in, my bride Tybee has been teaching elementary school pretty much all her adult life, she’s seen and dealt with it all, and now she’s DONE. She still loves the kids, she knows she spent her career doing what she should be doing, and she’s still a teacher any student or parent should be thankful to have. But each day it gets a little harder to haul her cart of books and papers and notebooks up the steps of our house at the end of another interminable day.

Trust me on this one. She’s DONE.

That’s done, as in even if my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs had somehow clawed past the Colorado Rockies in last night’s Wild Card game, as far as the 2018 season goes, they were long since DONE.

Slugger Kris Bryant, battling a bum shoulder that may well need off-season surgery, was clearly not the same Kris Bryant opposing pitchers had come to know and fear.

Shortstop Addison Russell was put on ice for an undetermined length of time while the accusations of domestic abuse hopefully get sorted out one way or another.

Closer Brandon Morrow, nursing a bone bruise in his pitching arm, had long since been shut down for the season.

Catcher Willson Contreras, such a beast in the first half of the season, had transformed before our very eyes into a patsy at the plate who never could frame pitches well enough to for his pitchers to get an honest strike.

The bats had gone so limp, in fact, that the Cubs managed all of two runs over the final 22 innings of the season. Even manager Joe Maddon was under the weather in the final game, watching his once mighty team stagger through 13 innings to the 2-1 collapse he had to see coming.

Again, even if they had somehow pulled it out, the Cubs appeared to be no threat to the Brewers or anyone else they might match up with along the way. The Cubs were clearly DONE.

We who pulled for the Cubs hoped like hell they would somehow pull a Muddy Waters (he of Windy City fame) and finally at long last Get Their Mojo Working. But the record will show that the Cubs Mojo had long since packed and gone, leaving the Cubs, indubitably DONE.

And that’s OK. It had better be, because that’s the story of life.

The fan who expects their team to win it all all the time is destined for heartbreak and sorrow. The best we can hope for really is that our team plays well enough to give us something to follow until the end. Not every season is going to be 2016. It took the Cubs 108 years to reign again over the baseball world, and I’m thankful I lived long enough to see it.

Besides, there’s always next season. Hope spring eternal, and all that.

One great hope I had from watching the game on ESPN2’s Statcast (which I really got off on) is that Major League Baseball will, sooner rather than later, turn to the electronic strike zone. And I’m not saying this as sour grapes. My own take was that the Cubs got at least as many calls go their way as the Rockies, and besides, as I stated at length earlier, the Cubs were already a dead team walking.

Home plate umpire Chris Guccione, the stat freaks on ESPN keep noting, is said to be a “Hitter’s Ump,’’ in that he calls fewer strikes than most his eagle-eyed brethren. To hear that really, really disturbs me.

The strike zone is the strike zone. It’s to be called, not interpreted.

And it pains me to see a pitcher make the perfect pitch – especially in a “High-Leverage Situation” – and it be called a ball. It pains me equally to see the batter take the cutter two inches off the plate, and be rung up for the final out.

The three-dimension strike zone they kept showing on ESPN was, to me at least, further evidence that the technology exists for lasers and cameras and monitors to do what the human eye simply cannot always do. As I’ve written before, a pitch from a Major League pitcher darts, slides, cuts and veers toward the plate at 95 miles an hour, and the umpire is expected to determine whether it dissected at any point on its path the strike zone.

This is no knock on Guccione, who, surprisingly, turned into a pitcher’s umpire on this particular occasion. He’s only a human being asked to do what humanly cannot be done.

In time, baseball will turn to the electronic strike zone. It’s inevitable. I just wish the powers that be would go along and make the move, for the benefit of all. It’ll then be a far better game, giving managers, and players and fans something other than balls and strikes to bitch about.

The pitcher who paints the corner will get the call. The batter who has the sand to take a pitch two inches off the plate, will get the call. Baseball will be a better game.

And when baseball finally does turn to the electronic strike zone, I hope it’s done right. Wire home plate in a way that it turns a bright scarlet – bright enough for everyone in the park to see – when the pitch catches the zone.

Doing so would certainly make the rest of the playoffs more fun to watch. And speaking of the rest of the playoffs, go Braves. I was around Brian Snitker enough during his lifetime in the Carolina League to get to know and like him, and he’s a great story.

So go Braves and go Yankees. Here’s hoping for an Atlanta/Big Apple series.

The Cubs may be DONE, but the 2018 season, thankfully, roars on.

Rice Shows Up Right on Time

Of all the characters I met over my four decades of writing sports, among the most colorful, and certainly one of the most profane, had to be the Frank Howard, the coach/philosopher who was Clemson football from the time he became head coach in 1940 until long after he retired in 1969.

He was still hanging around the program when I started making trips down I-85 in the early 70s, spinning stories that were at times nakedly racist, at times banal, and at times as dead-on insightful of the human condition as any words I’ve ever heard spoken.

Frank Howard was a man of his times, and as such, he could have never had lasted coaching more than a game or two in the 21st century. The reason he lasted back then was that the sportswriting community – of which I was, admittedly, a young convert – chose to scrub the N-bombs Howard dropped with such casual regularity from the transcripts of post-game and post-practice observations, as well as talks to civic groups so well-received throughout the upstate area of South Carolina.

Should I, as a 22-year-old neophyte in the business, have exposed Frank Howard for his racist language? Looking back, the answer is probably yes.

But that’s a rhetorical question I’ll leave for another post. On Saturday I was reminded of the words of wisdom Howard had for any fellow coach hoping to scratch out a living in the dog-eat-dog world of college football.

Find somebody you can beat, Howard would prescribe in his most red-dirt of all red-dirt Southern drawls, and play them every Saturday.

Wake found somebody it could beat Saturday. In Rice, the Deacons found a team pretty much any FBS college team could beat.

Anybody watching needed only a possession or two to see just how bad the Owls are. On Saturday, in front of a sparse gathering at BB&T Field, they were bad enough to be down 45 points by halftime to a team that had spent the previous two weeks getting knocked around its own home turf.

Dave Clawson is too smart a man to deny the obvious, and I was glad to see Conor O’Neill of my old shop the Winston-Salem Journal, lead with the caveat that provided all the context the reader might need.

Still, beating Rice 56-24 had to be fun for the Deacons and their fans, all of whom had been licking their wounds from the 41-34 cuffing by Boston College and the 56-27 drubbing by Notre Dame. But was the win just a sugar-high that will wear off long before Wake kicks off against No. 3 Clemson Saturday?

And just what did we learn from the fun and frivolity?

What I personally learned was that given enough time to stand in the pocket and survey the options available, freshman Sam Hartman certainly looks the part of an ACC quarterback. Trouble was, BC and Notre Dame didn’t give Hartman enough time and Hartman, consequently, looked like the raw freshman he is.

But given the luxury of time Saturday, Hartman shredded Rice for 15 completions on 17 attempts for 241 yards and four touchdowns, while playing turnover-free football. As Conor pointed out in Monday’s follow story, Hartman’s quarterback efficiency rating of 284.96 is the best ever at Wake for any quarterback with at least 11 completions.

How close can Hartman come to performing at that level under the duress he is sure to face against Clemson? I’m sure that’s a question Clawson, offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero and Hartman himself will be asking in the hours leading up to Saturday’s 3:30 kickoff at BB&T Field.

Saturday’s win also convinced me that Greg Dortch is far too great a weapon to allow to run free through the secondary. Notre Dame kept close tabs on Dortch, and held him to six catches for 56 yards and – most important – no touchdowns. Rice didn’t, and most likely couldn’t, and Dortch torched the Owls for 11 catches for 163 yards and – most important – four touchdowns.

Brent Venable is a good defensive coordinator, good enough in the eyes of Clemson to pay $11.6 million to lock him up for five years. He’s paid those big bucks to determine which opponents are most likely to make him and his defense look bad.

Greg Dortch will be a marked man again Saturday. I’m as curious as you to see how he and the Deacons will respond.

One question that was clearly not answered Saturday was what effect canning defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel four games into the season had on Wake’s performance. Clawson was not overjoyed to see Rice score three touchdowns in the second half, but he did express satisfaction with how the Deacons’ defense got lined up.

That may well not be enough against Clemson, but it will be a requisite for any semblance of success.

The Deacons emerged from September with a 3-2 record and a litany of questions remaining – most of which, I’m willing to predict, will be answered in October. Wake gets the second weekend off, and then will hit the road again for the first time since August to play at Florida State on Oct. 20 and at Louisville on Oct. 27.

Neither the Seminoles nor Cardinals appear to be the powerhouses they’ve been known to be, so maybe Wake can pick off one or the other and roll into November at 4-4 with Syracuse (home), N.C. State (away), Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play. That would leave the Deacons with at least a viable path to the six wins needed for a third-straight bowl.

But to beat Clemson, FSU or Louisville, Wake will have to play better football that it has played.

Dave Clawson, to his credit, knows this, as does anybody who has been paying attention this season.

Cozmik Croquet

Occasionally a well-meaning friend who knows my passion for politics will ask if I ever considered running for elective office.

These are obviously well-meaning friends who have never seen my starring role in the production of Henry’s Hawaiian Open.

Some candidates might be hiding a skeleton or two in their closet. Even the most cursory of opposition research would unearth that boneyard in my basement.

The time was back in the daze, circa 1980.

The place was The Southern Part of Heaven, a.k.a Chapel Hill.

The sport was one we – and by we I mean folks like Moose and Crag T. and Rico and Gary O. and T.C. – invented and promulgated among all the freaks and ne’er-do-wells and layabouts and hippies and eccentrics and thrill-seekers and free spirits we were hanging out with at the time.

You know, our fast friends.

We called the sport Cozmik Croquet, and like so many great inventions, it was borne out of necessity. We were bored, and we desperately needed some fun. There was also my broken-down Ford Econoline van (with the legend Cherokee-Bryson City Florists emblazoned on the sides) that was stuck in the driveway of a house we were in the process of getting evicted from, and something just had to be done.

We considered burying the wheels in concrete and leaving it as a souvenir, but wised up in time to realize that would probably emboss us on the permanent record of any realtor or landlord in North Carolina or any of its neighboring states. The obvious solution was to push it over a cliff, but there were no cliffs nearby.

So then we came up with the grand idea of throwing a Cozmik Croquet Tournament and giving the van away as first prize. Thus came to be our founding organization, The Intergalactic Federation of Croquet and Cozmik Awareness (IFCCA).

We weren’t good for much, but we were really, really good at promulgating. We staged our first tournament, the Jones Street Invitational in April of 1975 and drew around 50 or 60 curiosity seekers. But Chapel Hill was a tight scene in those days, and before long word of our shenanigans had spread through Cat’s Cradle, and He’s Not Here and The Mad Hatter and the Cave and up and down Franklin Street, to the extent that each tournament attracted more and more attendees.

It also drew more and more attention from the wrong places, which is why holding these events at our homes was not a good idea. The morning after the second tournament, The Littlejohn Invitational, we had a note pinned to our back door demanding we vacate the premises by the first of the month.

And no one who was there will ever forget the scene at The Second Annual Jones Street Invitational, held out in Hudsonville on Mount Gilead Church Road in Chatham County. That’s when the incensed landlord and his even more apoplectic wife drove their truck up to our first wicket right during the middle of the bedlam and gave us all of one hour to collect our wickets and stakes and mallets and balls and beer cans and whiskey bottles and get the hell off their property. To drive the point home, our landlord had his buddy, the county sheriff, to park in full view to make damn sure we did what we were told.

It should go without saying that we were, once again, house-hunting by the first of the month.

What saved the sport was the bright idea of slipping unannounced onto campus and driving our wickets and stakes into one of Carolina’s many athletic fields. By then, very few of us were enrolled, but somehow we got away with appropriating the grounds for several years – long enough for the sport to grow and flourish and become the local rage our good friend Bob Landau of Maceo Productions documented with such aplomb in the movie linked above.

Within three or four years, in fact, the ensuing rage compelled us to limit the field to the first 96 Croqueteers who showed up for registration. Otherwise we couldn’t finish the tournament before having to, once again, illuminate the greensward with the light of cars positioned strategically around the perimeter.

We would stage anywhere from four to five tournaments a season, and the battles for supremacy among the myriad teams (The Jones Street Boys, The Poker-Face Crybabies, The Pair-A-Dice Palookas, Henry’s Heroes, The Rock Candy Mountaineers, The Stoned Rangers, Dee’s Boys, The Charlotte Croquet Club, Uranus B Team, Mallets Aforethought, The Media-Ogres, The Sweet Nothings, Fupped Ducks, Reckless Abandon, et. al.) remain legendary in the deep recesses of those burned-out, overtaxed medial temporal lobes still functioning in some capacity today.

Every bit as heated was the competition for Best Dressed – Male and Female. The sport, if nothing else, was a boon to all the Consignment and Thrift Stores in the Greater Spudtowne Statistical Metropolitan Area.

The tournament immortalized in Henry’s Hawaiian, as you can see, was indeed concluded under headlights, and I’m proud to say, was won by my brother Tom. T.C. always was a great mudder.

Way too many of the characters having the time of their lives are no longer with us today. But in watching the movie again last night, I was struck by how many of the people you see actually overcame their sordid past to lead productive, laudable and, in some cases, quite prominent lives.

I won’t out them. Their secret is safe with me and the hundreds of other Croqueteers they crossed mallets with on the fields of Cozmik Combat those many years ago.

Year by year, relocation by relocation, mortgage by mortgage, new job by new job, new kid by new kid – you know, LIFE – eventually took its toll. But Cozmik Croquet, like Kudzu, can never be completely eradicated.

Even today we’ll have a tournament or two and there will be anywhere from a dozen or two old Hippies show up to remind everyone and ourselves just how crazy we’ve always been and how much fun life can be when you don’t take it, or yourselves, too seriously.

And if that means I’ll never hold an elective office, I consider that a small price to pay.

Tarzan

Anyone who didn’t know better might think I’m living through a second childhood.

On the contrary, what’s really happening is I’m re-living my first and just concentrating on the better parts.

There were few better parts of my childhood than Tarzan and Popeye, and thanks to the greatest channel on television, good old Turner Classic Movies, I was able to get up early enough on Saturday morning this summer to catch a twinbill. And in that the festivities didn’t start until 10, I didn’t even have to strain myself to do so.

First there would be a Popeye cartoon, a real classic with that irresistible theme song and the doors opening and shutting on the poop deck across the credits. What Popeye and Bluto saw in Olive Oyl, I didn’t know 55 years ago and I don’t know now.

But whatever hold she had was enough to have the two rivals beating the fool out of each other until Popeye finally ate his spinach and put an end to the carnage.

The best part was Popeye’s mutterings, which was a big reason he always put me to mind of another iconic figure of my childhood, manager Casey Stengel. Beat reporters who covered the Stengel’s Yankees couldn’t understand what he was saying either half the time, so they just called in Stengelese.

So every Saturday I’d be listening really closely to get off on Popeye’s Popeyese, which never failed to lay me out.

Then would come the main course of my Sunday morning feast, a full-length Tarzan feature. The run began at the beginning, all the way back to 1932, with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan in Tarzan the Ape Man. Yeah, I know there were earlier adaptations to Edgar Rice Burrough’s literary creation, with one even starring the yet-to-be-discovered Boris Karloff in the role of native chieftain up to all kinds of villainy.

But to me, Tarzan started – and in many ways – ended with Johnny Weissmuller in the lead role. Weissmuller was a five-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, and needed to be to out-distance all these angry Hippos riled up by Cheetah and, of course, swim down and kill those countless crocodiles intending to do Jane or Boy grave harm.

If you’ve seen Tarzan and a crocodile thrashing around in the water once, then you’ve seen it dozens of times. Close inspection reveals I’m being literal here. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer did the first six Weissmuller-as-Tarzan features, and RKO did the other six, but neither studio seemed to have the least bit of problem running the same footage over, and over, and over again.

My favorite episodes were the first six with O’Sullivan as Jane. The older I get the better O’Sullivan’s Jane looks in what is so often so close to the altogether.

But in the most scandalous (for the time) scene ever in Tarzan, it wasn’t O’Sullivan herself in the altogether. Instead it was another Olympic swimmer named Josephine McKim, a body double if there ever was one, frolicking nude underneath the water with Tarzan in the feature Tarzan and His Mate.

Those great kill-joys of history, the Hayes Commission, actually censored the scene for years until TCM came along and restored the movie to its original form.

Growing up in a mountain town far from the cultural centers of our state, it failed to register just how politically incorrect the depiction of the African natives was in Tarzan movies. It’s a debate that still rages today, as we could see in 2016 with the release of The Legend of Tarzan.

Did the studios actually become self-conscious about their portrayal? It certainly appears so with the later introduction of tribes of white natives in strange costumes doing all the things black natives did before. Who were the white people in the middle of the African jungle? Where did they come from?

Only on retrospection did I realize what heroes the elephants were in so many films. Not only did Tarzan and Jane train one elephant to hang around and pull the vine that raised the rigged elevator up to the tree house, but time and again an elephant would tenderly lift a grievously injured Tarzan and carry him out of harm’s way – often into the care of the Great Apes that raised our hero from childhood.

But being so big, the elephants really came in handy when Tarzan would let out his infamous yodel and have a herd of the beasts come rampaging through the village just as the natives were getting ready to do their worst to Jane or Boy.

In one episode, Tarzan Finds a Son, Cheetah and his chimpanzee pals actually ride the elephants to the rescue. Great stuff.

Tarzan, as mentioned, was never quite the same after Johnny Weissmuller got too old to rock a loin cloth, and had to gravitate to Jungle Jim. I really didn’t care much for the first replacement, Rex Barker. I liked Gordon Scott better, and can see why Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) was considered by many to be the best Tarzan movie of the post-Weissmuller era.

So for weeks on end, starting this spring, I would roll out of bed on Saturday all fired up to hunker down to another Popeye/Tarzan doubleheader. I even got into the habit of checking out the TCM schedule to see which episode was scheduled.

Then one sad Friday night I looked to find a Clint Eastwood movie, Every Which Way But Loose, in the usual 10 a.m. slot. It couldn’t be, I told myself. Surely it had to be a mistake.

But alas, I woke up on Saturday with no Popeye, and no Tarzan. To combat the withdrawal, I actually rented a double-feature Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan Finds a Son, from Netflix, and watched them last weekend.

Whoever said all good things come to an end is obviously not a fan of TCM. Unless I miss my bet, it will be only a matter of time until they start recycling all those Tarzan movies back over again.

My only hope is they pair them with a classic Popeye cartoon.

A Request: Please Share the Road

The drive back from our two-week sabbatical at the beach helped restore my faith in humanity.

The four-hour hump back from Myrtle Beach can be a pain, especially around Chadbourn – as forlorn a town as I’ve ever driven through. But on this particular day, Sunday, I spent most of my time around folks who share the same highway philosophy.

In that, I mean, they share the road.

Before we continue, I’ll make anyone reading this a promise. If ever I’m in the left (passing) lane and see you approaching in my rear-view, I’ll look for the next opportunity to pull right and let you by.

After all, it only makes sense. I’d rather have you in front of me than hanging on my rear bumper. And if you want to proceed at a speed faster than mine, your wish is my command.

I’m not into vigilantism. Besides, if there’s a highway patrolman up ahead, he’ll see you before he sees me.

Part of it is my lifelong aversion to being in other people’s way. It makes me uptight to think I might be blocking someone else from seeing what they want to see or going where they want to go. With each passing year, I’ve grown to despise big crowds more and more.

So a recurring problem, especially while driving, is to encounter people who obviously don’t have the least bit of problem being in other people’s way. If I didn’t know better, I’d surmise that some even relish it.

If it were only discourteous, boorish or ill-considered, that would be bad enough. But truth is, those who commandeer the left-lane and render it their own personal lane are actually causing far greater risk to all those they encounter on their trip from Point A to Point B.

There’s a good reason some states and municipalities erect highway signs that say “Left Lane for Passing Only.’’ 

Some are even imposing fines.

The Winston-Salem Journal, in an obvious attempt to lighten its insurance load, once required us all to sit through a session on defensive driving. The first question asked was “What causes wrecks?’’

The answer, to me, was obvious. “Two or more cars winding up at the same place at the same time.’’

“Exactly,’’ the instructor said.

It’s a moment that invariably comes to mind every time I find myself in a logjam on a four-lane road. And when one driver is taking their own sweet time in the left lane, and determined to exercise their constitutional right to which every lane they choose, then it doesn’t even matter if I’m in the left lane or right.

What does matter is that before long there is bound to be four, five, six or even more cars jammed together in close proximity, all piled up on each other with blood pressure spiking. And some of those cars are going to be hell-bent on getting by the logjam, and they’re going to start taking, in the words of Rodney Crowell, those crazy chances.

This is where I confess I’m not the most patient person in the world. And I readily admit I’m guilty of moves on the road, and gestures to my fellow travelers, of which I’m not proud.

But then there are days like Sunday when I’m cruising along with people who show consideration. Except for a couple of notable exceptions, the drivers I encountered recognized how much better – how much more civilized – a drive can be when the left lane remains open to those who wish to proceed at a higher rate of speed.

My best moments on the highway are when I can find that sweet spot – I call it a bubble – when I’m moving along at preferred speed with all other traffic well ahead of me and the rest just dots in the rear view. It can be relaxing even, and again, so civilized.

And it’s then, and only then, that I can groove on all that beautiful scenery our country has to offer.

So if we encounter each other out on the highways and byways, I’m hope it’s a pleasant experience. Just share the road, and I’ll promise it will be.

Heaven Must Have a Beach

My hometown of Franklin, N.C. is a good 100 miles west of the continental divide, which means the rivers and streams there flow not toward the Atlantic, but instead toward the Mississippi River basin and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

North Carolina is a long state. So is neighboring Tennessee. It’s always amazed me that one can start out on the coast and reach the Mississippi while traversing just two states.

A quick check with Google Earth informs me that there’s 363.3 miles – many of them mountainous and snaky – between Franklin and Myrtle Beach. All of which might explain how I was 14 years old before I ever laid eyes on the ocean.

My brother Tom, being two years older, got there before me. He returned with this sorrowful story how he bolted out of the car as soon as it reached the ocean, rushed into the breakers, and came up without his glasses. Being as blind as I am, he spent the entire week stumbling around in the fog and haze of acute near-sightedness.

Other than that, he had the time of his life.

My first beach trip was with the Methodist Youth Fellowship. I’ll have to check the statute of limitations before I reveal all that happened on that church-sponsored trip, but let’s just say I’m eternally grateful my mother never found out just what a numbskull I proved myself to be at 14 and away at the beach.

Or at least I never found out that she found out, which, truth be told, was just as good.

What I came to find much later, after I’d migrated to Chapel Hill for the next chapter of my life, was that many people living in North Carolina – especially those living east of Greensboro – consider it a birthright to get at least a week every summer at the beach. One of those was Tybee, who turned out to be my bride.

Tybee was raised in Raleigh, and some of her happiest childhood memories were made when her parents, Herman and Becca, loaded their four children in the car for their cherished week at the beach. They often camped, and she recalls her family walking the path from the campground to the beach at night.

Because she was the littlest, and because of a debilitating case of ostraconophobia, (fear of crabs), she just had to be carried.

So it was only after I was 27, and Tybee and I got together, that I was able to experience the beach through the eyes of someone who knew the ocean and loved it. Most everybody likes the ocean, but nobody I know loves it as much as Tybee.

In time I became comfortable among the sand and wind and heat, and I started looking forward with increasing excitement toward our sojourns to the coast.

There’s never been a better big brother than Tom, who has pulled his numbskull of a little brother out of more crises than said numbskull little brother cares to recount. But let’s just say he’s always looked out for me throughout my life.

Tom also married a beach bunny in Jenny, who actually spent part of her childhood in Myrtle Beach. So there was great joy throughout the Collins clan when Tom and Jenny bought a house at Myrtle Beach, and absolutely insisted that Tybee and I and our family make it down for at least a couple of weeks a summer.

Did I mention how there has never been a better big brother?

We’re midway through our first of two weeks down here. These days it’s just Tybee and me (Nate is in Dallas, Rebecca in Boston) but we’re making do quite fine.

I’m really not that crazy about Myrtle Beach Proper, if there really is such a place, but the fine home of Tom and Jenny is more than 50 blocks to the north where the streets are quiet and the beach – four blocks away– is practically private. What we found early is that there’s a golf cart culture in these communities, and we just park the car and drive Whitey the Golf Cart everywhere.

About the only time we drive into Myrtle Beach Proper is on Thursday, when there’s a weekly Open Mic at this really special Faith-based place called Fresh Brewed Coffee House. Because Fresh Brewed, unlike Muddy Creek Cafe, specializes in caffeine and does not sell beer, it takes an adjustment on my part to not be at my usual level of libation when I break out Buckshot for my set.

But the folks are friendly as can be, the Open Mic is well-run, and I’ve really enjoyed playing there.

Our schedule is our own, and for Tybee, that means logging as much TBT (Tybee Beach Time) as she can possibly pack in. It’s not unusual for the two of us to make it down to the shore by 10, set up our umbrella and chairs and for Tybee to still be completely content until I drive Whitey back down there at around 7 or 7:30 to bring her back to the hacienda for a shower and dinner.

Today she has to cut her TBT short because she wants to make the Open Mic with me. I know I’m asking a lot, but her willingness to do so must mean she really does care about me.

Happy Birthday, Frances Cooper Collins

Early one morning in June,

With the Mountain Laurel in bloom,

The Bluecoats came.

And they weren’t a’knocking.

Frances Cooper Collins was born on July 4, 1925 in Cherokee, N.C., the third of nine children of Zolley Arnold and Amandaville Myrtle Keener Cooper.

Zolley was a carpenter/handyman who worked for the Cherokee Boarding School and Myrtle, as she was commonly known, had her hands full keeping house and raising nine kids through the Great Depresssion.

Frances, our mother, taught us – and by us I mean my sister Sara Sue, brothers Tom and Joe and me – pretty much everything we know.

But one thing she made absolutely certain she taught us was to curse the ground that Andrew Jackson ever set foot on.

They drug us out of our doors,

Said `You don’t live here no more,’

Herded us up like cattle,

And put us in the stockade.

Frances was a righteous woman who raised us in the First United Methodist Church, but she converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints after all her children had flown the coop. I couldn’t resist chiding her about how she drug me out of bed all those Sunday mornings to worship at a church that she, herself, abandoned, but Frances Cooper Collins did not find her religion to be a laughing matter.

But for a righteous woman, Frances sure could hold a grudge. And her most celebrated and dead-set grudge dated all the way back to the 1830s. For if you know your American history, then you’ll know that no one on earth was more responsible than the aforementioned Andrew Jackson for removing her people out of their idyllic ancestral homeland in the mountains of North Carolina and moving them off to this far away place called Oklahoma.

The Cherokee knew nothing about Oklahoma, and so many of them didn’t want to go to Oklahoma. But thanks largely to Jackson, they had no say in the matter.

Our people argued our case and won,

In the marble halls of Washington,

John Marshall said it was our land,

Like it had been all through the years.

Though born almost 100 years after this sorrowful chapter of our nation’s history, Frances wasn’t one to let such a grievous matter drop. So throughout our childhood, the name Andrew Jackson couldn’t be mentioned without our mother reminding anyone within earshot what a lowlife and scoundrel our seventh president truly was.

We’d chuckle over how worked up Frances could get, but only when she wasn’t looking. Like her religion, the removal of her people was no laughing matter to Frances Cooper Collins

Old Hickory was having none of it,

Said `You’ve made your law, now let’s see you enforce it,’

So the Cherokee marched the Trail of Tears.

The Coopers are known for their strong blood because almost all of Frances’ brothers and sisters have lived, or did live, into their 80s or 90s. But Frances was the unlucky one; she died of leukemia in 1989.

I am grateful she lived long enough to know Nate, our son born in 1986. But it’s always caused an ache in my heart she didn’t know Rebecca, born in 1990. Rebecca reminds me of Frances in so many ways. The two would have made quite a team.

The mud had frozen hard,

In the stockade yard,

When, by the point of a bayonet,

Our march began.

Given how deep the villainy of Andrew Jackson had been seared into my consciousness, I felt a real responsibility to make sure that grudge didn’t simply wither away in time. Frances’ grudge was way too good a grudge for that.

So throughout Nate and Rebecca’s childhood, I made sure they knew just who Andrew Jackson was, what he had done to my mother’s people, and just what their Maw Collins felt about it.

By foot, by horse and by boat,

Only the lucky wore coats,

It was more than any woman, child or man

Should ever have to stand.

But no matter how hard and adamantly I railed, my sermons just weren’t seeming to take. I’d go on and on about what a wretched, good-for-nothing, incorrigible piece of human excrement Andew Jackson was for what he did to the native Americans, and I never could detect the least bit of rancor or enmity on their part.

I was looking for froth, serious froth, and I never even saw so much as a fleck on Nate or Rebecca’s lips.

Eventually I began to despair that I was letting my mother down for not extending a perfectly good grudge past my own generation. So what, in such a sad conundrum, is a man to do?

Well, I reasoned, he could always write a song. And after reading one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read, that of a child survivor the genocide named Samuel Cloud, that’s exactly what I did.

I wrote it for my mother.

Happy Birthday Frances Cooper Collins.

Beside my mother I’d lie,

Until the night my mother died,

The night I learned how to cry,

On the Trail of Tears. – Trail of Tears by Dan Collins