Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Snipe Hunt

Backstory of the Idiom

A snipe is a slender-billed bird of the sandpiper family. Its coloring makes it well-camouflaged in marshy areas. A snipe is so difficult to catch or shoot that sniper refers to someone skilled enough to shoot one.

In a snipe hunt, experienced people make fun of gullible newcomers by giving them an impossible task. A snipe hunt usually takes place within a specific work environment or social group; the task is part of a tradition, similar to hazing.

The phrase snipe hunt originates from a practical joke within a camping context. Inexperienced campers are encouraged (rewards or threats) to catch a snipe, which moves around in the dark from tree to tree. A snipe can be a bird or an animal, depending on who explains the rules. The dupes are given sacks and told the ways to attract a snipe, such as banging rocks together or whistling a specific way, while the other hunters push the snipe toward them. Of course, after getting the greenhorns lost in the woods, the old-timers just go back to the campfire and wait to see how long it takes the newbies to give up and show up.

Meaning of snipe hunt: a futile search or endeavor

I have personal ownership of this idiom. When I moved to a new Girl Scout troop in the sixth grade, the five greenhorns in the group were included in the invitation to a weekend camping trip at a farm in Gold Hill, just outside Auburn. With brand-new sleeping bags on our shoulders, we emerged from family cars feeling both adventurous and apprehensive. None of us had ever slept outside. Overnight. In the dark. But soon we were having fun cooking over a large campfire, with the help of our leader, her husband, and her son. We sang songs and told stories and learned about constellations and petted the two farm dogs.

Then the husband announced that we were going on a snipe hunt. The older girls cheered and talked about how much fun we were going to have. But this time, the new girls would have the most fun because we could catch a snipe, a harmless small animal that traveled in small packs from tree to tree, only in the dark. The son told us that snipes are attracted by a certain kind of noise, something like whistling. When a snipe hears the right sound, it stops to listen. Each of us was given a feed sack, and the older girls demonstrated how to whistle up a snipe. Our leader announced that the girl who caught the snipe would get a great prize, but we were encouraged to help each other. Because that’s what good Girl Scouts do. And the older girls generously said they would try to drive the snipes toward us.

Off we went, away from the fire and the cleared area, into the woods, led by the lanterns of the husband and the son and the barking of the dogs. Somehow, the lanterns disappeared, and we couldn’t hear the dogs. In the increasing darkness of the woods we suddenly noticed that only the five rookies were left. We giggled with semi-fear and tried to tell jokes to keep from freaking out. We walked for what was surely nine or ten hours, whistling. Not for a snipe. Bagging a snipe wasn’t on our minds. I don’t remember how we managed to get back to the campfire, but we were too tired to enjoy the laughter that greeted us. I had no problem sleeping on the ground that night. And I had learned what a snipe isn’t.

My Cousin Billy's Joke

If I close my eyes, I can almost   .    .    .

hear the sounds of Grandmama's switch red-striping Billy's legs. Ten-year-old me chortled, but restrained myself from peering around the corner of the back porch. Grandmama believed that punishment should be private. But I wanted to see him suffer. Lord knows I was suffering. I ran my tongue tentatively around my mouth, wincing as blister met blister. 

Jimmy, sitting listlessly on the porch steps, wiped his nose on his sleeve and sniffled; his mouth was blistered too. Sprawled on the black wicker swing, her head pillowed on her arm, Betty tried to cry herself to sleep.  Bobby noisily ate the cold biscuits and slurped the buttermilk that Grandmama said would ease the burning.

My cousins were totally absorbed with the pain in their own bodies--I was much more interested in Billy's pain, in Billy's punishment. Did the switching hurt? Bad? Would he have to do our chores? All of them? For how long? Smiling at the steady sounds of switch justice, I could hear Billy's bare feet dancing as he jumped up and down on the back porch in rhythmic thuds, trying to avoid the switch, yet not daring to move out of Grandmama's reach.

Maybe next time he'd think twice before he set me up--talking about how good those elephant ears tasted! Who would've thought that those pretty green leaves could raise such blisters! Maybe next visit I wouldn't be dumb enough to fall for another one of his practical jokes.
If I close my eyes, I can almost   .    .    .

hear the sounds of Mama's switch red-striping my legs and the rhythmic thudding of my feet dancing up and down on the kitchen floor. Why was that dumb little kid across the street stupid enough to believe me when I told him about those good-tasting elephant ears?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Good Friends, Good Memories

I am in a nostalgic mood today. I’m dealing with grief, but I’m smiling because I have such good memories of being neighbors and friends with Marvin and Carolyn Vickers.

A little historical background: Before the parsonage for the Seale United Methodist Church was built on McBride Street, the parsonage used to be on what is now called Oswichee Street, my street. My father-in-law had given the property to the church with the provision that it should always be owned by the church. To sell that land in order to build the new parsonage, the church asked my husband, his sister, his three brothers, and all the spouses to sign away our possible claims—something we gladly did.

When we moved to Seale in 1963, Marvin and Carolyn were our neighbors. Warren’s family had already claimed the Vickers as family members, and we soon learned why. They were special. We loved them and they loved us back. Carolyn and my sister-in-law were very close friends and have remained so. Once you were friends with them, you were friends for life. Marvin was a student at Emory’s Candler Seminary in Atlanta during the weekdays and came to Seale on the weekends. Carolyn taught in the elementary school in Seale and lived in the parsonage. My son Tom was a toddler then and was quickly adopted by Marvin and Carolyn. When Sears delivered a large gym set in several boxes to our back yard, Marvin recruited a friend and they worked all day--under Tom’s supervision--to assemble an assortment of swings and a slide. Tom always called Marvin “Uncle Peacher.”

A couple of years later, on a Tuesday night, Carolyn and I were cleaning up the kitchen after a fresh vegetable supper. Warren and Tom were outside. I suddenly started having violent contractions—a few weeks early. Panicked, I turned to her and asked, “What should I do?” Without missing a beat, Carolyn exclaimed, “Doan look at me! Lawdy. I doan know nuthin’ bout birthin’ no babies!” After we stopped laughing, she made sure I got organized for a trip to Columbus, where Ben was born three hours later. After Marvin baptized Ben, he and Carolyn were part of our family celebration at Villula Tea Garden.

We have kept in touch over the years, through distance and time, through children and grandchildren and motorcycles and Korea and Blue Lake. They visited me a couple of years ago, and on June 10, 2017, they attended our church’s 175th Anniversary. 

We lost Carolyn last night. Yes, today I have tears, but I also have a smile. Thank you, Lord, for good friends.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Today is my birthday, and I’m a grandmother. Early this morning I was thinking about my grandmothers—how long they lived, what they were like. My husband’s maternal grandmother was an important part of my life for over a decade. I wrote this tribute to her some time ago and decided to post it today.

The old woman peered over the top of her smudged glasses to identify the visitor, then quickly dropped her eyes to the calico squares on the quilting frame. Her bright blue eyes showed no hint of her 91 years, and her voice was strong and animated. Fingers skillfully pulling the needle down through squares, batting, and lining and then back up through the crazy-quilt top, she greeted me and spoke happily about a letter from a California grandson and--hands too busy to point--nodded her head toward a large cardboard box on the bed. She said a young church friend had just delivered a collection of fabric remnants.

As always, I looked at her crowded room in amazement. "Too busy to be tidy," she said apologetically, with no apology in her eyes. On the brown tile floor, old shopping bags stuffed with fabric squares of many colors and patterns, double wedding ring curves, and Texas star points crowded against boxes overfilled with brightly colored scraps. She wanted me to see the latest finished quilt, so I pulled a battered brown suitcase from under the bed and examined a carefully folded Dutch Boy destined for the newest great-grandson in Atlanta. Because a basket of bananas and apples took up the extra chair, I pushed aside her blue chenille bathrobe and sat on the bed with the new box of remnants, my feet just missing an open breadbox and its tangle of colors in loose and balled thread.

The telephone rang. She moved a pile of pieced squares and talked with a Texas grandson. I picked up the worn black Bible on the bedside table and read several pages of the copious notes in the margins, some written in a sure, tight hand, some in a loose scrawl. A short time later, two middle-aged women from the local homemakers' club stopped by to deliver a caramel cake and a summary of the latest news.

As they chatted, with one visitor on the bed next to me, leaning uncomfortably against the wall, and the other perched gingerly on the window sill, I noticed that the ever-growing stack of sewing boxes (a sameness of gifts) was now precariously propped against the bookcase. Letters, snapshots, and greeting cards were jammed between and into the books. Wandering Jew, trailing philodendron, and airplane plants overran the top of the bookcase, creating a cool green chaos in contrast with the color riot everywhere else. Although I could not see it, I knew that there was a sewing machine underneath the rolls of batting. There was a tiny black and white TV, I remembered, on the dresser under the mound of pale yellow lining. The other corner of the outside wall was all quilting frame, with Grandmama's chair jutting out into the middle of the room, blocking most of the walking space.

The two ladies said their goodbyes until next month. Taking with me clippings of philodendron, apples for the boys, the caramel cake ("Take it home! I don't need the sugar. Besides, it's Warren's favorite."), and a trash basket made from yellow egg cartons tied together with green knitting yarn, I stepped into the hall, contemplating the 104 quilts and 56 baby quilts made since she had decided to move here four years ago. As I left that busy, happy bustle behind me, I suddenly noticed the strong acrid smell of the nursing home.

Minnie E. Porter Moore, 1884-1975

Written in July, 1984

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Misadventures of Fuzz in Seale

Have you ever tried to list all the pets you have had? Do you have a favorite? For my daughter-in-law's birthday, I just selected a picture to post on Facebook that pushed me into these thought patterns. But I didn’t have to spend any time choosing a favorite.

While Dr. Tedder, our long-time vet, was tending to Psyche, our tiny rat terrier, my husband asked about a friendly, uncaged Airedale with a bad skin condition. His owner had dropped him at the clinic to be put down, but Dr. Tedder kept him as a clinic dog. The outcome of the conversation was a promise that he would treat the dog whenever the skin condition flared up—medicine and board, for free—if we would give this unusual dog a home. So we left with an extra dog. The AKC registration papers said his name was Fuzz Wuzz Doodle. And thus began the Misadventures of Fuzz in Seale.

An inveterate wanderer, Fuzz immediately investigated our small community and became well-known. We worried that he would become a pest and braced ourselves for the complaints. They never arrived.  His base of operations was our farm supply store in “downtown” Seale. He greeted our customers, who enjoyed his friendliness. Sometimes he shared night space with the two store cats, Rover and Spot; sometimes he slept on our back porch with the house cats, Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot (who turned out to be Lancelena). Over the years, a good many dogs with wiry black and red hair appeared in Seale. And we loved Fuzz. Everybody loved Fuzz. He had been trained to be a gentleman. He didn’t jump up on people; he didn’t bark unnecessarily; he was affectionate with people, other dogs, and cats. He was a perfect companion for our two boys as they roamed the woods and creeks.

He caused us trouble only twice. In the mid-70s, several area citizens decided to raise money to restore the abandoned old Russell County Courthouse building. Our biggest project was a large festival each year on the courthouse grounds with unusually good pork barbecue, prepared by a dozen or so men and a few of their wives, who would stay up all night tending to the meat and enjoying the fellowship around the fire. Of course, Fuzz became part of the group. Part of the night’s routine was eating barbecued chicken. During the second or third year of this event, Fuzz had apparently been pushed beyond endurance. He walked over to the grill, quickly helped himself to a chicken, and disappeared into the shadows. We weren’t there, but heard about his treachery the next day when we were informed that Fuzz would not be welcome the following year. From then on, he had to be locked up in the store every year on barbecue night.

The other time was more serious. We were totally unprepared. When we first brought Fuzz home, we were apprehensive about letting him wander in our backyard. Well, our back backyard, where my husband raised exhibition chickens. (I’ll have to explain that in another blog.) These chickens did not run free but were kept in breeding coops. The small pens were sturdy, but Fuzz was big. And strong. On his first trip to the chicken pens with Warren, he was carefully observed and supervised. We were delighted when he just nosed around, inspected everything with his usual curiosity, and then wandered away to check out something else. Over a period of time we stopped worrying about the chickens. But several years later, a good friend drove his pickup into our yard with Fuzz tied in the back. He started yelling as he jumped out of the car. In short, Fuzz had broken into his chicken house and killed over 20 of his chickens. We had to tie him up until a pen could be built. Gradually, we released the chastised dog back into the community. But he seemed different. He moved slower.

Dr. Tedder said Fuzz had developed unusually bad arthritis, all over. He spent most of the time on the back porch. He whimpered a lot. One Friday afternoon we found him under an old storage house out back. We could not get him to come out. He just howled. We didn’t talk about what had to be done. The next morning, Warren dug a hole, told me to get in the house and stay there, and crawled under the storage house. I heard a shot and a short time later saw the truck moving up the road. He did not return home until late that night. He never talked about that day. And I never asked.

Monday, March 6, 2017

My Collection: Plants I Have Loved

A recent article (Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff) explains why kids don’t want their parents’ old furniture and beloved knickknacks. And definitely not their grandparents’. Okay, I got it. That doesn’t mean I like it. I don’t like the idea of my prize “things” being trashed or donated. Sold? Nahh. Very little of monetary value here. Just sentimental. I have an old farm house full of odd things my gkids won’t want when I die or down-size, whichever comes first. My collection is the ultimate barrier to the idea of down-sizing—something that would be economically and logically easier on me. But I couldn’t fit all these things into smaller square-footage! At first I thought I’d write about the objects most likely to be ignored in order to guilt the most sensitive gkids into adopting some of my unlikely treasures. But maybe not.   

Let’s just start outside. Outside? Yep. Plants. I’m sentimental about plants too. My favorite plant died years ago, but I still remember it with affection. I love its history. From Brewton to Jacksonville to Oneonta to Auburn to Seale. My father planted a tea olive in his mother's yard in Brewton (1930s). When my parents moved to Jacksonville (1940s), he took the young plant with him.  Years later, he gave it to his mother-in-law in Oneonta.  When she died (1960), he moved it to his house in Auburn. When my husband and I moved into his old family house in Seale (1969), my father planted it right below the den window, where I enjoyed seeing it for many years. And the smell! That special tea olive smell still transports me down Memory Lane. And then the Big Freeze hit us. My husband wrapped quilts around the tea olive, but it was not enough protection. Who cries over a plant? This person. I now have two large tea olives, but neither has an emotional pull. I enjoy the fragrance but that’s it. No family history.

Okay, that’s the plant that isn’t there. There is also a plant that is still outside my window. My father planted several of his azaleas and two camellias in the row where the tea olive was. One camellia died, but the remaining camellia is beautiful. It is a symbol of my father’s love for me and for plants. (I grew up with the idea that having a greenhouse and a large garden in your backyard was perfectly normal, even if you lived in town.)

My emotional tie with camellias is heightened by a shallow bowl that Mama used to float blooms. This bowl appeared in our house and in the homes of those suffering a loss or just needing a cheerful arrangement. My parents had this thing about camellias and hibiscus. Several years ago I bought another bowl of the same style at an antique mall, and quickly forgot which was Mama’s, the large one or the small one. Much later I finally figured it out: Mama’s name is still on the adhesive tape on the bottom of the large one!

In the last two months, Daddy’s camellia blooms floated in bowls in Panama City Beach and Fayetteville, Georgia, as well as in Seale. Continuity. Memories. Family.

(If I get this mushy about something outside the house, you can imagine the level of emotion about something inside the house. More later.)

Monday, January 4, 2016

NCAA 2015 Football Divisions - Simplified (Ha!)

I am a dedicated Auburn fan and a football fanatic, but for a long time I didn’t understand that the NCAA’s Division I football category has two subdivisions. I kept trying to make FBS and FCS two different divisions. (I am still annoyed that the NCAA didn’t take the time to make things a little clearer for those of us who illogically want things to be logical.) As I read through several websites, almost defeated by the boring history of frequent changes of categories and names, I finally got a little closure on this topic. Here are the results of my “research” for any of you who share my confusion.

The placement into divisions and subdivisions for football depends on the financial ability of a school to support a sports program based on NCAA’s somewhat bewildering requirements, including a maximum number of scholarships, minimum average attendance for home games, a specified number of funded sports by gender, and a commitment to academic achievement and appropriate facilities—all this plus adherence to scheduling criteria with plenty of legalese tossed into the mix. A school can even be in different categories for different sports!

Challenge: Try this crossword puzzle before (or after) reading below.

I.                 Division I – Two different groups of teams!

A.     FBS - Football Bowl Subdivision (128 football teams*)

                        Examples: Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, UCLA

FBS schools are allowed 85** athletic scholarships.

The college football playoff is a contractual system of six bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach), plus the championship game.

A committee following NCAA protocol selects twelve schools for the six bowl games. These must include the champions of the five major conferences plus wild cards. (It's actually much more complicated than this!)

B.     FCS - Football Championship Subdivision (125 football teams)

                        Examples: Jacksonville State and Samford (Alabama) and
Mercer and Kennesaw State (Georgia)

FCS schools are limited to 63 athletic scholarships.

For national playoffs, the field consists of 10 automatic qualifiers through conference wins and 14 at-large teams selected by the NCAA. The teams participate in a typical playoff format.

An aside: Jacksonville State advanced to the national finals in January, 2016, but lost to North Dakota State, now a five-time national champion.

II.               Division II (170 football teams)

Examples: North Alabama and Tuskegee (Alabama) and
Valdosta State and Fort Valley State (Georgia)

These schools are limited to 36 athletic scholarships.

The NCAA selects 28 teams in four regions to participate in the national finals in typical bracket structure.

III.              Division III (248 football teams)

Examples: Birmingham-Southern and Huntington (Alabama) and
Berry and LaGrange (Georgia)

These schools do not offer athletic scholarships. (But athletes can get other types of scholarships, such as leadership.)

For the playoffs, automatic bids are issued to the winners of 25 conferences and seven at-large teams, resulting in eight teams in four brackets in a typical playoff structure.

An aside: For several years the national championship Stagg Bowl was played in Phenix City, Alabama.

*The number of teams in each category varies with the different sources of information. One of the reasons for the inconsistency is that schools are constantly entering/leaving categories.

**The number of scholarships in each category varies with the different sources of information. Sometimes scholarships can be part- or full-time; this option leads to varying numbers of scholarships. The numbers here are approximations.