That We Connect At All Is A Miracle


It’s Sunday here so I’m publishing a few of my poems. Today’s theme is the loss of someone you love. Maybe they’re gone forever, maybe for a year, maybe they just left for the day. Time is such a relative thing and our feelings so subjective…

Colors Brush Your Cheeks

Your nose is leaking
rainbows at the top,
where it meets your eyes.
Colors brush your cheeks
and drip onto your feet.
Then they roll around
like painted ball-bearings,
just making their rounds.

Airports used to hold a horrible significance to me. Every time I said goodbye to someone I really cared about, it was at an airport. Sometimes it was me with the ticket, sometimes it was me standing in a crowd with tears in my eyes…

Never Say Goodbye

Will it be years from now
you glance back across your shoulder
you see me with security
watching the distance between us grow?

And we smile
(we are brave)
And we laugh
(we are young)

And we never say goodbye.

And then the absence. The loneliness. The despair. The utter and total Loss…

Simple Sea Algae

Where am I to be
without your confidence
to support me?

I will be like simple sea algae
when taken from the water;
lifeless, and alone.

Sometimes you know that part of your life is over. With only the memories being all you have left, you have a choice to make. Do you fatalize the whole thing, bury it deep beneath your current pain of loss? Or do you celebrate its wonder?


That I am so blessed
to have known you at all,
that I have the fortune
to call you my friend;
that we shared a lifetime
in days now long passed,
that our memories last,
that our love never ends.

The universe is so large, and forever lasts a long time. That we connect at all is a miracle.

Walking Pneumonia v Catdaddy Moonshine – Part 2

Read Part 1 HERE

Legal Lightning


I realized that if indeed I had pneumonia, that it could explain the on-again off-again progress of my symptoms over the past year. I had always thought that pneumonia was caused by either bacteria or viral infections, but I learned that there are at least five other causes, and that one of the most common causes was from inhaling particulate matter. Even dust can cause the condition to occur. Working as I did with computers, I was constantly exposed to it.

I called Tommy and asked him if I could get some of that moonshine from him. He said I could have a quart if I would use it just the way he said. I agreed, and on the first day I was barely able to get out of the house I picked up a quart jar with an ‘A’ on its lid. The ‘A’ designated the highest grade, 180-proof, 90% pure alcohol.

That’s when I learned where the stuff came from. It was from the Piedmont Distillery, owned and operated by Junior Johnson under a license from the state, making him a legal manufacturer and distributor of the most illegal alcohol in North Carolina. Until then, I didn’t know anyone could do that. From what I understand, it was a hard fought battle to get that license. This particular jar was from his ‘private stock’, not for sale to the public.

I’m glad Junior Johnson didn’t give up making moonshine. I couldn’t even tell you what the numbers are on his race cars. I don’t know who his sponsors are. And that probably won’t change. Junior Johnson isn’t in my mind associated with racing. In my mind, he’s the guy with the cure for what ailed me.

Alcohol In – Lots Of Other… uhhh… Stuff Out

I started the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at about 8 o’clock by drinking a full six ounce dose of the moonshine. It was really hard to swallow, literally. I don’t drink, remember? Can’t stand the taste, can’t stand the feeling in my stomach. But convinced I was dying, I continued with about 2 ounces every two hours. After a few doses I felt just purely awful, but I persevered.

Following Tommy’s advice, I drank this way throughout that night and Thanksgiving day, and around 10pm was nearly done with the quart. That was the total dosage he had set for me, and that’s when I stopped. I wanted to be able to drive to my mom’s house for the big Thanksgiving dinner on Friday. Most of my family would be there and I had hopes of looking good and feeling better. They’d been really worried about me lately. I wanted them to see a future with me in it, not me in a box.

Thanksgiving, For Real

I won’t describe the nastiness that came out of me. Some of you would enjoy that narrative, but my mother probably wouldn’t and she still reads some of my words. Suffice it to say that I was both amazed and humbled.

Alcohol is one of the few things humans put into their bodies that cannot be metabolized in the stomach. Alcohol is different. It remains alcohol until it reaches the liver. From the stomach it enters the blood, goes immediately to the heart and lungs, then is sent to literally every cell in the body. What’s not turned to sugar in the liver is removed from the body through urine, sweat, breath, and feces.

But along with it comes many things one might never expect were in there. I will ignore the other ways it comes out and just say here that the blackness which came out of my lungs–clumps of it at times–was simply astounding. I almost said ‘breath-taking’, but after each spell of coughing this crap up, I could actually breathe BETTER.

It is strange to feel yourself healing, almost minute by minute. Within hours of waking on Friday, I knew I was on the right track. A certain fog that had descended on my mind months earlier began to lift. My vision actually cleared a little (I was nearly blind in one eye). The pain that had wrapped around my chest for months was gone. It had completely disappeared from one day to the next.

Dinner was scheduled for 5pm, and I showed up at my mom’s house around 1 o’clock. There was color on my face, the blackness receded to just under my eyes, and my eyes were clear and sure. I could stand straight and tall–geez, I could stand at all! I felt absolutely fantastic.

( Disclaimer: I need to note here in the strongest of terms that I am not telling you to drink alcohol to cure any illness. This story is an anecdote, and though what I describe here did take place, I was by no means cured of my underlying affliction. The cure came in the form of several years of medication to treat the fungus and then the necrotic pneumonia that over time destroyed about 80% of my lungs. If you are sick, see a doctor. )

They Forced Their Hope Upon Me

What still brings me to tears all these years later is the solemn truth that I had accepted my death as not just a certainty, but as an imminent fact. I don’t know if I ever actually gave up–I think I was on that precipice–but I do know that I had accepted it. I was trying to help others accept it, trying to make that inevitable day less painful to them.

But they would not accept it. My niece, my sons, my family and friends – they didn’t let me go. And go I would have, with a dignity and honor I had rehearsed all my life.

There is no way I can ever thank them enough for that. I hope they always know with certainty that they saved me from an end which I mistakenly thought my own. I hope they know how much that means to me. They forced their hope upon me, when I could find no hope at all. They gave me these last ten years, and they’ve been some of the best years of my life.

Death is not something to be feared. It is not some horrible destiny that awaits us like a ravenous beast, but is instead the natural completion of the time we have here. It’s the last New Thing any of us will experience while we live. In some ways on any day many of us look forward to it. Still, to die when there is reason and method to remain with the living would be a sad thing, indeed.

We’ll all take that journey some day–the fare is paid the day we’re born–but there’s no reason to use the ticket today.

Walking Pneumonia v Catdaddy Moonshine – Part 1

I Am Not A Doctor

And neither is Junior Johnson. I’m not a NASCAR fan either, but I have developed a sincere appreciation for at least one thing this man has accomplished.

He makes and sells moonshine. And he does it legally.

Back In The Day

NASCAR fans already know the short history of the sport. It grew out of the mid-20th century moonshine-runners here in North Carolina, driving powerful muscle cars from county to county, delivering the illegal drink to those who would have it, regardless of the law.

My grandaddy ran a still, way back then. Here in Rockingham county it was a common sight to see the sheriff drive up and get out of his car, pulling his pants up to cover his enormous belly, looking around like he was the sheriff of Nottingham instead of Rockingham. Yes, the fat sheriff from NC who said things like ‘You in a heap o’trouble, boy’ really DID exist. I have seen him in my childhood, and I will never forget.

It was against the law to make your own liquor here. Still is, as a matter of fact. But Carl Axsom, the high sheriff of Rockingham County, showed up on a regular schedule to load the clear juice into the trunk of his huge Plymouth Fury III. On the side of the car in letters six inches tall were the words ‘Carl Axsom, Sheriff’, and down below, in two-inch letters was ‘Rockingham County, North Carolina’.

Sheriff Axsom would pull into the driveway, get out of the car, and hike his pants up around his really (and I mean REALLY) fat gut. It was his trademark move. He’d ask for my grandaddy and they’d go down one of the little farmroads–down into the ‘holler’–to fetch the stuff. A little while later they’d return loaded down with the shine and drunk on their asses.

Grandaddy would load gallons of the stuff into the official car’s trunk and the fat man would leave.

Axsom was defeated in an election by a guy who promised to clean up law enforcement. My grandaddy got older and finally died, a sober man who spent much of his time reading the Bible. In the end he was a man I was proud to call my family, a man who finally came to be who he was all along–a good man.

But before I was proud of him, I learned to hate drinking alcohol. I learned it made me feel bad, that I hated the taste of it in all its forms, that I was one of the few lucky ones in my family who would not love the beast that killed. I can drink, and I have been drunk many times. That’s how I learned.

Back To The Story

So it came as a special surprise to me that I was planning one week to drink that strongest of drinks, white liquor, in a quantity that even my grandfather might have avoided in his wildest days. And I didn’t plan to eat anything while I pulled this drunk. I was just going to pour the stuff in and see what came out.

Long term readers know I have been sick for awhile. Since November 2007, as a matter of fact. My personal philosophy prohibits me from seeking so-called medical advice except in extreme cases. I won’t go into the reasons or the philosophy right here, but I do have reasons for my stance. So in August of 2008 when I bowed to my family’s demands that I at least have some tests done, it was a major deviation from my normal way of living.

The truth is, I thought I was dying. I just wanted to know exactly what it was that was killing me. Because of some really severe pains, I was pretty sure it was something in my circulatory system, so I chose a heart specialist. After nearly $3000 in testing, he assured me my heart was fine, and instead diagnosed me with a severe case of emphysema based on x-rays of my lungs. But he also told me that I was a strange case, as the only indication of any emphysema was the x-rays. I didn’t exhibit any of the symptoms you’d normally expect from a severely emphysemic patient.

That was in September. By the middle of October I was very ill. When November rolled around, things took a turn for the worst and within another week or so I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. My skin changed colors, gradually becoming a kind of gray you’d expect to see in a terminally-ill patient. The black circles under my eyes had grown to cover much of my face.

I was dying.

Mysterious Ways and Unexpected Means

I’m a lucky guy, though, and the Lord of the Universe wasn’t finished with me. My niece would come to check on me every day back then and sometimes would force me to let her drag me to Chaney’s, my family’s local restaurant, for soup or whatever she could get me to eat.

One particular night during the worst of this ordeal she lugged me over to the restaurant. I hated going there by then. Chaneys is one of the most popular places in this little southern town and I didn’t want folks I know to see me in that shape. But this night it paid off. One of my friends, a customer with a contract for IT services (which had been neglected for a month due to my illness) came in with his wife and sat at the table next to us.

Southern hospitality always trumps everything else. Forgetting myself, I asked how he’d been lately. It’s the polite question, the equivalent of asking how’s the weather. The answer is almost always as shallow as the question. I expected Tommy to look at me, see my illness, and say something like ‘fine’ and then ask about my health. That’s the normal way it goes.

But he didn’t. He told me how he’d been sicker than he had been in over 30 years, maybe longer. Told me how he’d seen the doctors, taken the antibiotics which did nothing, taken the anti-viral shot which did nothing, followed all the doctor’s orders, all with no improvement. It lasted for 5 weeks he said. ( His wife leaned around him and said that he had looked JUST LIKE ME.) He listed his symptoms, and they were exactly what I was going through.

Well, he looked fine to me so I asked him what he did to finally get rid of it, which brings me back to Junior Johnson. The cure my friend Tommy came up with was to go back to his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, when his grandma would treat nearly everything with what else but liquor and honey.

Liquor and honey was a big cure-all around my house, too when I was that young. My grandaddy’s wife Mama Lacie, would make a small glass with the white liquor and honey and make us drink it. I never understood why, and being so young I never asked or gave it much thought. It was just one of those things that eventually went away as the 60s turned into the 70s and then the 80s and we became too ‘modern’ and ‘advanced’ in our thinking, throwing away the old so that we could embrace the new.

The wisdom of trying to eliminate an illness gave way to the madness of managing it. Younger doctors with much education brought with them a distrust of the old ways, the ways that had kept us alive these last several eons, the ways which brought us here to this pinnacle.


Back in the restaurant, Tommy said he just sat himself down on his couch in front of his 60 inch TV, turned off all his phones, and broke out the best of the best of the ‘shine, a quart of white lightning made by the only guy in North Carolina with a license to do so. He drank that quart over a period of about 36 hours, supplemented only with chicken noodle soup (another old remedy, which recent studies have shown has many curative properties which are still not understood well.)

He said that was all it took. He coughed and shat the infection out of his body within the next two days and had felt fine since. (Again, his wife leans forward and says ‘He looked JUST LIKE YOU, Jon’.) And then he makes a comment that stuck in my head: ‘I think I was on the verge of having walking pneumonia’.

That stuck in my head for a few days. I’d been sick off and on for over a year, always the same symptoms, always seemed to be some form of the flu. For decades before, I’d had hardly a sniffle and then, an entire year of it. I had done what I never do (seen a doctor… and believed him), and I had given up on recovering health. I had updated my will, began to unwind my obligations, started trying to prepare those closest to me for the certain day of my approaching death.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about what Tommy said. I could barely breathe the day I started searching the internet for information on pneumonia. I knew it was a waste of time, but I had nothing else I could do anyway. I felt like a desperate fool, grasping at a hope that would never be real, but I did what I do. I searched and researched and gradually I learned.

I had never before found any illness that matched ALL the symptoms I was experiencing. I’d been searching for nearly a year, and had finally given up. You can imagine how it made me feel to find that pneumonia caused every symptom I felt. Well, imagine my surprise when I found a cross-section photo of a pneumatic lung, and compared it to the cross-section photo of an emphysemic lung, and to my eye they were identical!

Clickback tomorrow for the conclusion.

I Remember The Sixties

My family, circa 1960

The old saying is that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t really there. Well, the truth is that if you don’t remember the 60s, you really weren’t there. All of us who lived through it remember it. How could we ever forget?

How could we forget Kennedy being assassinated? I was only 4 and even I have vague memories of my grandmother screaming at the television. I remember The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I remember Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and I clearly remember their deaths.

I remember the Eagle landing on the moon.

And I remember the endless streams of war correspondents who seemed to live inside the old black-and-white (what you call monochrome) set with the rabbit ear antenna. I remember Jed Clampett, I remember Andy Griffith, I remember Uncle Joe.

I remember walking more than a mile every day with my 3 brothers and sister to my grandma’s house for water. We couldn’t afford a well, so we carried our water in gallon jugs along the gravel road from Mama Lacie’s house to ours.

I remember my mom working 2 jobs as a single parent. I remember how tired she was, and how hard she tried to never let us see it. I remember how important education was to her. I remember her playing the old piano her parents gave her each night until we slept: Mendelssohn, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff…

I remember the new clothes of my classmates on the 1st day of school, and looking at my own threadbare hand-me-downs. I remember not being allowed on the gym floor because all I had were my brother’s broughan boots and we couldn’t afford gym shoes.

I remember my mom playing the piano in the church. I remember showing up to Sunday School in clean but barely fitting handmade clothes, eyeing the other boys and girls with envy because their clothes looked so much more stylish. I remember not wanting to make many friends because I would be too embarrassed to show them where I lived.

So I can tell you, I remember living through one of the golden ages of America. And I remember knowing, at the tender age of 9 or 10, that my family was one of the poorest in the state, maybe the whole country. I remember being angry and not understanding why my family, who were some of the nicest folk you’d ever meet, were so cursed with poverty.

Putting It In Perspective

I remember my mom telling us to eat everything on our plate. ‘There’s children starving in China!’. At the time I thought it was just something to make us not waste food, something probably only poor parents say to poor children.

I remember my grandma telling us that our family was one of the wealthiest in the world, because we had health, family and possibilities. We were dirt farmers, scratching an existence out of the red clay so abundant here in the foothills of North Carolina.

I remember my father taking me for a ride through the wealthiest section of town, Belmont, and pointing out and adding up an estimate of how much money those people owed the banks to be able to display their success. 

I remember finally understanding that wealth is not something that can be measured with money, because in this world money is just another word for debt.

I remember finally figuring out that those old beat up boots were actually some of the best made shoes ever, worth far more than their rugged appearance implied. I remember finally seeing the pure value my mom was investing every night, stating timeless truths and beauty in the notes she played, themes that would forever find a home in the hearts of every child she had brought into this world.

I remember eventually missing those daily walks with my family to get the dearest, most priceless treasure in all the world. I’m not talking about the water we carried. I’m talking about the closeness that comes from shared actions which keep the whole family alive.

I remember that finally, it dawned on me that at least we had a television, and time to watch such silliness when most of the world was too tired from just trying to survive that day to even care about a TV.

I remember finally understanding that there really were starving children in China, and India and Africa and even here in the US.

And I wasn’t one of them.