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Filtering by Category: essay

A Southern Treasure | An Essay

Ben Ashby

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    By: Shan Ashby    

My husband and I were traveling in July, through what I call, “my south”  when we stoppedto eat at a popular fast food spot.  We picked a table and sat next to a window looking across a steamyparking lot.  Both of us are people watchers.  I guess that's the school teacher that comes out in us.  It's a skill one develops after a lifetime in the classroom, that allows one to hear conversations and read body language of an entire room full of souls while appearing to be doing something entirely different.

There was an older man, probably in his late 80's or early 90's sitting across from us eating ata table with a much younger but look alike fellow, I surmised he was probably the gentleman's grandson.  He wore faded denim, bib overalls with galluses over an ironed blue and gray plaid shit.  He was clean, shiny clean and hiswhite hair with a speck of grey looked soft as it fell away from his hairline part.  The young man across the table was eating hurriedly, it was after all mid-day and they probably had errands to run. 

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A family soon filled the table behind us - parents with three grade school aged children. They were modestly dressed – no name brand clothes, no cell phones, no walking and texting.  They were quiet as they pulled the chairs away from the table across the tile floor and seated themselves.  The father carried food on one tray and the mother carried the drinks on another. The oldest child had napkins and straws which she passed around.  

Our three families continued to dine in the midst of the noise from the soda machines and orders numbers being called – lunchtime patrons, coming and going.  I watched the elderly gentleman finish his sandwich and drink as he glanced often toward the familybehind me. And for that monumental moment I could read his thoughts. I've done it so many times with my own Grandfathers and Dad after they shared stories about their lives during the depression, as well as,  the stories they dared share about the horrors of war. 

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I knew as he looked at the family, the gentleman could see himself as a young father, The children, reminded him of his own and he thought about his wife, now gone, and how she had cared for their little ones in the prime of her young life.  

He remembered the struggles of his childhood and his responsibility as a Daddy to feed a hungry family. He had insight. He had a pleasant expression as he watched them enjoy their meal.  The young man who sat across the table from himfinished his meal and motioned for them to leave.  With   little conversation, the young man rose from the table and walked toward the trash and placed his tray in the appropriate place and then waited by the door.

The elder also stood, but much slower.  He scooted his chair under the table, picked up his tray and turned toward the young family.  Without hesitation he approached their table. He stood as tall as his frame would allow and he spoke directly to the father, 

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“ Would your family care for my fries?” There was a momentary silence between the two men as my husband and I listened and watched this noble act of southern kindness.

“I haven't touched them and I'mfull, I can't eat them, I don't want them to go to waste.” he spoke softly. 

In those brief seconds I felt my heart begin to pound and a lump tighten in my throat. I couldn't continue to eat.  I held my breath and hoped the tears in my eyes would not draw any attention in this moment – I leaned over my foodto avoid eye contact with my husband.  

We were in the presence of a private moment, a historical moment that only a people of our age in the south canunderstand and appreciate.  This was a hospitable southern offering from this elders generation but might likely bring giggles, smirks and laughter from some of the “ insensitive, self serving” youth of a more modern generation.  

Sadly, the time is quickly coming when this southern offering like so many other unselfish treasures of giving will no longer bemade by a generation of people.  I may never witness an act of this genuine kindness again in my lifetime.

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This was a gentile, southern man.  I'm sure his eyes had seen too much that he'd like to forget, his body marked by age but his generosity beyond reproach.  He was old enough to remember the “great depression”, to remember as a child, days with no food, to remember cold winter nights with nowarmth andshoes soles reinforced with cardboard, but he endured.  He was old enough to have served his country in World War II and perhaps seen starving children and adults through barbed concertina wire in the concentration camps in Germany or witnessed his comrades in arms die on the blood soaked battle fields of France or England, but he endured.    

He is a pattern of many many southern men whose ghosts grace sacred places of our world     in honor of freedom at Valley Forge, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Normandy, Pearl Harbor, Germany, theSouth Pacific, Iwo Jima and Korea.  He is an American son, still a father for his countrymen who still remembers the pains of poverty, the sick and down trodden. And as long as he has an ounce of strength, he will volunteer on their behalf to insure their welfare.

The young father, replied with respect as to allow the older gentlemanhis dignity and sincerity.

“Thank you, Sir.  I think we are fine and have plenty.” 

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“I wanted to make sure your family hadenough food. You are welcome to my potatoes, I didn't touch them, really, I didn't touch them at all.”

The young father answered humbly, 

“I appreciate your offer, thank you Sir, we are fine.”  The elder walked away feeling better for his inquiry and concern butlifted the flap of the front pouch of his bibs and carefully tucked the paper sack of fries into the pocket. 

Life has shown me, that the older generation, the “generation who saved the world” is often ignored.  Our aging fathers and mothers have much wisdom to share.  They do not have face book accounts, send many text messages or surf the web.  Their knowledge came from the feet of their parents and grandparents instead of CNN.  Their life lessons and common sense have served our country well.

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You may be reluctant to speak to someone with white hair, stooped shoulders orbib overalls assuming they are not aware or they do not notice you, but don't fool yourself.  Their bodies maybe old and worn, but their spirits are still young enough to see more about you than you know about yourself. 

For they have seen our country beforein troubled times and made sacrifices so that we could have what many of ustake for granted. I can remember my mother often cautioning me, 

“be sav'in now, you never know when hard times are com'in.”  and I fear she is right.

They are our wisdom keepers, our historians and they should be cherished and revered.  For they endured and seldom questioned – but they endured.

So if your walking down the street sometime and someone looks at you with hollow ancient eyes and you fail to speak or respond, you have lost more than you may know.   As John Prine, the Kentucky born songwriter/singer sang, “Please don't just pass 'em by and stare, as if you don't care, say, hello in there ”  and smile with some down home southern respect – and a treasure will be opened to you, especially if you are somewhere in my south.

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Be Kind // Stella Marina

Zachary Kilgas

Be Kind. 


Kindness in its essence is a trait sometimes undervalued and often forgotten.  
Yet a few words carefully selected, or simply left unspoken can mean the difference between a smile and a tear.  We speak of intention, of gratitude and karma, but a simple act of selfless kindness is all it can take to brighten or soften the days of at least two people. 

 

It is present in babies when they are born, no child comes into this world with a preconceived idea of malice or hatred, we arrive with the capacity to love unconditionally, yet slowly that capability becomes ground down and chipped away over the years. In some minds, the potential for love, charity or altruism becomes crystallised, growing in new forms, in others a sort of calcification takes place, a smooth, hardened shell presents itself to the world.
 I might like to add here, that I do not write this from some rose-tinted cloud of kindness and empathy. I write this from my kitchen table, where I am slumped. I dragged myself here across the carpet because today I had a panic attack and I had to leave work.  I have felt the rumblings of one for the past week or so, but some loose-lipped words this morning sent me over the edge, and as I lay on my bed in that hazy aftermath where you feel completely empty and a little bit numb. I decided that the best thing to do was something constructive with this feeling (I also had to stop the day from feeling wasted).  
 

To draw us back to my favourite analogy, life on a boat actually offers up a wonderful platform for kindness. 

To be at sea grants us a condensed version of the outside world, yes it is archaic and often patriarchal, but it relies on wanting to keep one another alive. We depend on one another, knowing that the task ahead would be so much harder if not impossible alone. That self-reliant entity that is your ship, allows you to shed the skin of daily life, removing all other roles and responsibilities aside from sailing, eating, sleeping and how you will progress from A to B. Each change of direction is predetermined by a greater force, you cannot fight the wind, you can only harness it in order to move forward. Maybe this applies to our emotions, to anger or frustration? Bottling them up inside will rarely relinquish them, you may only harness that energy in order to move forward. Then there are the consequences of careless harsh words in an environment fuelled by broken sleeping patterns and constant movement. Not only are those words magnified but there is no easy exit, you are with those people for better or for worse, so please let's be kind. These words are easy to write, the thoughts are easy to form. The hard part is in the heat of the moment when you are distracted or angry. I do not claim that it is possible to constantly check yourself for thoughts of anger. The freedom to express our thoughts, ideas and emotions in any way that we like is a human luxury, we must try only not to exploit it. If you are granted words, please use them kindly. If you are granted authority, please use it wisely.

Alex and the Boy with Flowers

Ben Ashby

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Photographer Alex McDonald has shared dozens of photo essays with us over the years. This one was a few years ago and remains one of our favorites. 

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Why Must We Protect Our Public Lands?

Ben Ashby

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WHY MUST WE PROTECT OUR PUBLIC LANDS

ESSAY BY AMY HAYDEN || PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAIGE DENKIN

 

The question was asked...why must we protect our public lands and parks... Amy Hayden responded with a beautiful essay

Here is a simple history lesson for you. You do realize that's how these places became national parks. Someone wandered onto the land and saw the beauty and decided it needed to be known that it was a beautiful, majestic wonder the earth created, and it needed to be known that there were many people that came before us and they put their mark on it and called it home. And when decades later it was discovered people went to great lengths to protect it, and to teach others about it, to help preserve such a wonder, a rare beauty. Beauties that every state in our country once had tons of and now everyday we are losing more of them from natural disasters and political disasters. If no one stepped foot into these areas there would be no beauty to admire. No one would know or care about such places. We'd be suffocating with cities filled to the brim with people.

 

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These places are our history, my history, Native American runs through my blood and I would love to know what my ancestors experienced before I die, so I too can find a way to leave my mark on this earth for future generations to see and experience when I'm long gone. To remember who came before them as we are now remembering who came before us. That's what national parks/monuments are all about. To teach us to be grateful, to show us that we were not just handed all this. It's to teach us that one day this world will no longer exist in the beauty we see it today. Stepping foot into such a place is not killing it, it's making it a beautiful memory. But drilling and mining miles down underneath it, Say goodbye resources this beautiful land survives on. Say hello to a wasteland caused by greedy, power hungry humans. Open your eyes and see the answers are in these places.

@REBELLIOUSWALLFLOWER

Five Alternative Uses for Fruitcake

Ben Ashby

 

Truman Capote’s 1956 short story “A Christmas Memory” opens on a chilly, late November morning to a young boy’s surrogate mother looking out the kitchen window. Her breath fogs the pane and “Oh my,” she exclaims to him, “it’s fruitcake weather!"

 

BY: D. GILSON

 

I’ve been thinking about this boy and this woman a lot recently, as my own breath fogs the frosty mornings and the local food co-op in our New England town puts out its annual order forms for fruitcake, displayed carefully between menorah candles and commemorative winter solstice prayer cards.

My mother doesn’t bake. But lo-and-behold, every holiday season a fruitcake adorned the giant red sideboard next to our kitchen table. My mother and I would drive to the local Sam’s Club, grab Diet Cokes from the hot dog stand, peruse the aisles of colossal cheese and salami trays, gallon jugs of Jack Daniels, permafrost boxes of Hot Pockets and Pizza Rolls capable of feeding a small legion of junior high boys for the better part of a month. We’d end at the bakery, plop a shrink-wrapped, over-sized fruitcake into our cart, and make for home. Freshness isn’t an issue with fruitcake, the food that, along with Twinkies, may very well feed us in a post-nuclear apocalypse. 

Our fruitcake held court upon the vintage milk glass cake stand for a month or so, a month when we’d peck at it until New Year’s, when my mother would throw what remained in the backyard, where stray cats and birds would finish what we couldn’t.

Yes, it’s popular to hate on fruitcake. And though I don’t particularly like it — even the artisanal ones this site will inevitably link to, made by hipster bakers with pretty blogs and thick framed glasses smudged with organic, locally-sourced, hand-ground flour — I want to offer you five uses for fruitcake that don’t require eating them.

XO,

D.

 
 

Rise to social media stardom. Jesus is not the reason for the season, and Santa is drunk on a beach in Cancun. This leaves room for a new holiday star: you. Bake a fruitcake (or buy one, it doesn’t matter). Snap a picture of it next to your bare ass. Tag with #FruitCAKE. Drop to Insta, Tumblr, Facebook, Reddit (even trolling, closeted Republicans need holiday eye candy). Watch your likes grow and your star rise, bringing many a wise man to lay in your manger.

 

Win the passive-aggressive winter Olympics. That racist cousin whose name you always draw for the family gift exchange? That co-worker who sends you “Long Live Lady Gaga” playlists on Spotify? That guy who gave you chlamydia junior year but is now married to a rich patron with a Lower East Side loft and cabin in Asheville? Yeah, fuck ‘em with kindness. Bake the driest fruitcake you can, wrap it in butcher paper, tie it with twine, add a sprig of spruce, and send it alongside the happiest holiday card you can muster. Up goes your karma count, no one can say you didn’t try, and hey, maybe your untouched fruitcake will draw rats to their well-appointed kitchen.

 
 

Plan a date. Tell your crush to bring dried fruit and the door will be open. Splay yourself upon the counter, covered with flour, eggs, butter…whatever else goes in a fruitcake. See what happens.

 

Throw a costume party. Invite every gay man and every woman you know to a Fruitcake Party. Dress: ho ho ho. Décor: low lighting. Drink: liquid fruitcake (orange zest, a cinnamon stick, but mostly gin). Distraction: Love Actually on loop. Don’t forget: carb and gluten free fruitcake bites and plenty of mistletoe.

 

Reconnect with your mother. You don’t call enough. You haven’t given her grandchildren. You live so far away in that city now. And yet, you are naturally her favorite. Spend an afternoon baking with your mother, margaritas in your cups and Dolly Parton on the stereo. Tell her about the boy who broke your heart last month. Let her tell you he wasn’t good enough anyway.

 

D. Gilson is the author of I Will Say This Exactly One Time: Essays (Sibling Rivalry, 2015) and Crush with Will Stockton (Punctum Books, 2014). He is an Assistant Professor of English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and his work has appeared in Threepenny Review, PANK, The Indiana Review, The Rumpus, and as a notable essay in Best American Essays. Find D. at dgilson.com or on Instagram @dgilson.