Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Outdoors Is Not Closed

A gift that amazes the child in all of us

By Clyde Edgerton

I’m writing these words in late March 2020.

My gentle editor recently told me that the Salt magazine theme for May’s issue would be “the outdoors.” I took a walk to think about how to write about that subject during these dark times.

More people are taking walks, riding bicycles — missing beaches and closed parks. I can only guess at how things will be in early May, when you are (now) reading these words. It does not seem far-fetched to guess that, by then, you or I — or both of us — will have lost people we knew, and perhaps loved. I know of no time since World War II during which I could have said that.

On my walk, I notice a wisteria vine behind a neighbor’s house. I think about how, unchecked, it will begin to take over bushes, shrubs, trees — a nuisance vine. But the beauty of its blossom may counter that, depending on your relationship to the vine; that is, if it’s growing in the woods you can admire it, but in your yard it may become invasive and unwelcomed. The reason I notice the vine on this walk is because late March and early April are days of Wilmington’s wisteria blooming — light purple — for its three- or four-week colorful span.

I rarely, if ever, see a wisteria vine without remembering a particular wisteria vine. My mother remembered it being planted in about 1915 at the base of a trellis in her grandmother’s backyard. That would have been three years before the Spanish flu epidemic. Twenty-one years later, in 1936, the federal government bought 5,000 acres in the vicinity of the homeplace, where the vine grew on its trellis, and offered it to the state of North Carolina for a dollar, with the understanding that the acreage would become a recreational site. The site became the William B. Umstead State Park, situated between Raleigh and Durham. Graveyards, as well as stone and glass remnants of an entire community, can still be found near trails and streams.

The wisteria vine planted by my grandmother survived the land transfer, and once every year for the past 70 years or so, I’ve helped family members clean the family graveyard near the site of the homeplace. By the 1950s, the wisteria vine began taking over wild shrubs and pine trees around the graveyard, and for a while in the early ’80s it arched magnificently over a dirt road that ran through the park. This memory of it in bloom, reaching up into and over pine trees, and over the road, is unforgettable. Park rangers painstakingly extinguished the vine in the 1990s. Sadly, in my view.

My guess is that you remember an outdoor childhood spot — near a certain tree, or creek or hillside. Perhaps there was a path that led to a secret place. While outdoors interests adults, it often amazes children. When did you last climb a tree?

In a sense, outdoors is childhood. And outdoors is a gift, like a sense of humor, like strong relationships with people we like and love. Gifts. Not acquisitions growing from what we don’t need.

Granted, we need toilet paper, but it’s not free.

Outdoors is free.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

A Close Shave

What’s old may be new

By Clyde Edgerton

If I use a plastic drinking straw, I get grief from my family.

As I should. So I decided to stop using plastic straws and plastic razors — those disposable ones, usually orange or blue — and buy an electric razor.

My father, back in his day, used an implement that looked very much like a plastic razor, but his was metal, and when you twisted the handle about a quarter-turn, two little doors on the head of the razor opened toward the ceiling. He’d then drop in a thin, almost weightless Gillette razor blade. He’d twist the handle so that the little doors closed and the blade would be enclosed snugly, with its two sharp outside edges exposed.

He’d drip some warm water from the spigot into a mug that had a bit of soap in the bottom, then work up some lather with a soft round brush. He’d brush the white lather onto his face, and then carefully shave.

My grandfather did it the same way, except he used a straight razor, sharpened by sliding the blade along a leather strap, or “strop.” The strop looked like an extraordinarily wide leather belt.

Anyway, I realized I’d have to shop for a new electric razor.

For me, shopping often produces anxiety and indecision. I do it as rarely as possible. For example, I bought my newest sport coat before my very old cat was born. Cats don’t live that long. And I just found out that some blue jeans are black.

First stop: Target. I find the electric razor section. It’s as long as a gymnasium wall. My heart rate ticks up. I look closely and read packaging information: dryfoil, proskin, lithium ion, microcomb, flexible foil cutters, pivot head. I grab one in the mid-priced range: $69 — the going price of a sink, commode and bathtub when my father started shaving in about 1917. The brand is a Braun, and something extra is in the box. I’m not sure what, but I just want to get out of the store.

I take my Braun home and try to open the box with several kitchen implements. I finally open it with my chain saw, avoiding injury, get the razor out, and unpack the rest of the box. I find a thick booklet of instructions in English and many other languages, as well as a fairly large “recharging stand.” And inside the recharging stand is a small, clear plastic container. And . . . stay with me . . . inside that container is a container of some special liquid that every night will clean the shaver while the razor is being recharged and  . . . no joke . . . oil it. I read that every few months I’ll need to buy more of that special liquid. A reasonable person might wonder if this thing will shave me like those vacuum cleaners that vacuum the house while you watch TV.

What happened next is I nervously decided to do a bit of research. What was I getting into? When I Googled “electric shavers” I got this many hits: 41,300,000. (Check it out.) And then because I Googled “electric shaver,” I now have a new electric shaver image pop-up on my speedometer screen when I start my car — the latest deal between Honda and Google.

Next stop: Target. I returned the electric razor. I bought a bag of disposable razors, the blue ones, and a can of shaving foam.

Soon, I’m going to visit my father’s grave as I sometimes do, and we will have a talk. I think I know what he’s going to suggest: mug, soap, soft round brush, and an old-timey metal razor.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

The Chainsaw Saga

By Clyde Edgerton

I am groggy (after a nap) when, chainsaw in hand, I head for the small, dead tree in the yard adjoining our yard. My neighbor has asked me to cut it down — and I’m always looking for an excuse to use our trusty chainsaw. My youngest son, age 14, is with me. This is a good parent-child bonding opportunity. Had my daughter been around — same.

One thing I can teach my children is that old Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Gas and chain oil are nearby, as well as a spare chain. “See, I’m prepared,” I say to my son.

As we walk up to the tree, I set the toggle switch to “choke,” pull the crank cord, reset the toggle switch to normal, pull the cord again. “Wang-wang.” It’s running. Sweet.

My son points to the chainsaw. Covering the chainsaw bar and chain is a lightweight orange plastic sleeve — a safety cover. I’ve forgotten to remove it. I haven’t even seen it. The sleeve is there for a reason: The bare chain, with the engine off, is sharp enough cut you.

You are, of course, supposed to take that plastic cover off before cranking the engine, but being groggy from my nap, I’d been . . . well, groggy from my nap. I’d forgotten.

When I grab the sleeve to remove it, I do not realize that the engine is idling at a good clip and thus the chain is rotating rapidly. In less than a second, I pinch the plastic just enough for the rotating chain to 1) engage the sleeve; 2) cut through it and into my middle finger; and 3) shoot the plastic sleeve off the chain. It lands about 20 feet away.

I look at my finger, look away, and manage to quickly cut off the chainsaw and place it on the ground. I look at my finger again. The cut, just above that first joint, is deep, and jagged, and I see something white. The skin is kind of like a large flap, if you know what I mean. I am not prepared for this.

But while in pain — during this emergency — I’ll be a role model for my son. Isn’t there another part of the Boy Scout motto somewhere that says Be Brave or Be Calm or something like that?

My son walks over and I show him. Blood is flowing. Normally, I would be able to deliver a lecture: “Be prepared: thick gloves, removal of chain sleeve.”

But now that’s out the window, I’ll Be Brave and Calm. I’ll be a role model.

My wife is not at home, so my oldest son, 16, with a driver’s permit, will have to take me to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room. He calls Urgent Care. They are open. We will go there — and avoid a long wait, perhaps.

I’m in the car and my oldest son is driving. The youngest decided to sit out this next part. I’m holding my right hand up, my left providing towel pressure on that middle finger to stanch the bleeding.

“What happened?” he says.

I tell him.

He says, “Aren’t you supposed to . . . ”

“Yes,” I say.

We are at an intersection. “Which way?” he asks. I tell him.

We are at another intersection. “Which way?” he asks. I tell him.

This happens a few times.

We finally park and walk into the large Urgent Care waiting room. Ah! It’s empty! What luck. We walk over to the little window. The receptionist smiles, then sees blood. “Oh, my goodness,” she says. “Can I get your insurance card and an ID?”

With my good hand I reach for my billfold. Back
left pocket.

The pocket is empty.

“Forgot my billfold,” I say. I’m sure my smile doesn’t mask the deep pain in my eyes.  “Can I go get it after my finger is sewed up?” I ask. “My son has a permit only, and I’d have to ride back with him home to get my billfold. And then back here.”

“I’m sorry sir. We can’t treat you if we don’t have an ID and insurance information.”

We are at an intersection. “Which way?” he asks. I tell him.

“How could you forget your wallet?” he asks.

I don’t answer. Then I say, “It’s a billfold.”

“Not these days, Dad.” We are at an intersection. “Which way?” he asks.

“Straight ahead. Then right at the stop light.”

“I can’t believe you forgot your wallet,” he says.

Not only will I stay calm and brave, I will be humble.

I retrieve the billfold. When we get back to Urgent Care, six people sit in the waiting area — honest — with two standing at the window.

About a half-hour later, I’m in a room waiting for the doctor. My son is with me. I want him to see my calmness. The doctor comes and explains that getting stitches means you must lie down on the patient table, so that you can’t watch and faint. So OK. To deaden my finger before the stitches go in, the doctor will give me a couple of shots. It’s a very long needle. The very long needle will be inserted all the way into the joint on one side of my middle knuckle. I tell myself to stay calm. The needle goes in.

I scream. Then, “What the hell,” I say. That kind of pain has to be rare.

The needle is then inserted into the joint on the other side of my middle knuckle. I scream again.

In about 10 minutes six stitches go in. No pain.

As I prepare to return a couple of weeks later for stitches removal, I don’t ask my sons or daughter to go with me to the doctor for any role model stuff.

They’ve learned enough from Papadaddy.

Be prepared. Be brave. Be calm. PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Humor Me

These are difficult times. More reason than ever to ease up and have a good laugh

By Clyde Edgerton

In a small town stands a stucco building with two signs out front, one large, one small.

The large sign: Juanita’s Veterinary and Taxidermy Shop.

The small sign: Either Way You Get Your Cat Back.

Humor sometimes is forced to the backseat during this age of monster hurricanes, deadly drugs, poverty, wasteful wealth, anxiety, senseless car deaths, gun deaths, higher suicide rates, declining lifespans . . . WHOA! STOP!

Are the times really that bad? Or are the times being covered in such depth with penetrating media platforms, social and otherwise, that we just think times are worse than ever?

I mean, we at least got past the Middle Ages.

Answer: The times really are that bad . . . and there may be small, smooth ways to move, in your head, against bad times. To find a kind of comfort, a kind of distance from the noise.

Humor lightens the load. In some cases, humor close to home, maybe in the neighborhood.

A man who happens to be blind stands on the street corner. His Seeing Eye dog is peeing on his leg. The man is trying to feed his dog a Fig Newton. A woman across the street sees what’s happening, checks for traffic, walks over and says, “Excuse me, sir, did you know your dog was peeing on your leg?”

“Yep,” says the man.

“Well,” says the woman, “why are you trying to feed your dog a Fig Newton?”

The man says, “When I find his head, I’m gonna kick his ass.”

A small funny story (except to the dog, perhaps).

A different kind of entertainment tends to come from other places, from big obscene movie stories, for example — stories with blazing killer weapons and blatant blasts of blood. These movies seem to compete with our big crazy times, and maybe that’s why fans flock to them. These movies seem to say, “The world is getting crazier and uglier and more violent, and thus citizens deserve crazier and uglier and more violent movies. We are keeping up with the times.”

But crazy times also create the need for us to find more little stories from our own neighborhoods and communities. Sit on your front porch for a while. Watch. Listen. Talk to a neighbor.

Go buy some honey, see what happens.

Recently, a friend said he’d take me to a home where I could buy some good honey. He was a regular visitor. He knocks on the door to a sun porch. Somebody says, “Come in.” Inside, an elderly woman (about my age) is sitting at a small table, putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Her husband is sitting on a couch across the room. I and the couple are introduced, we shake hands. My friend and I take seats, and I ask about the puzzle — something to talk about before I buy some honey.

“Oh, yeah,” says the woman, “I do a lot of puzzles. I’ve probably done a hundred this year.”

I look at her husband, sitting quietly on the couch, and ask him, “Do you do puzzles, too?”

“Oh, yeah,” he says, slowly. “If we didn’t have puzzles, we wouldn’t have nothing to do.”

That was not an answer I could make up or find in a joke book, but for me (as a writer) it was golden — a little local story I’ve been telling my friends and have now written down.

Put the news aside. Talk to a neighbor. Discover a joke, a little story. Fight the bad times that way. Dismiss the cellphone and computer and TV for hours at a time. Hang on to the humor. Put some peanut butter on a piece of toast, add a little honey, go sit on the porch. Watch, listen. Find a story.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Summer Daze

When being outdoors was a terrifying adventure

By Clyde Edgerton

It was a hot summer day. 1951. In my memories of my seventh year, all summer days were hot ones, calling for me to go outside and get into them. There was no air conditioning yet in any home in our neighborhood, so there were no cool, enticing places except by a creek in the woods. You wouldn’t be caught dead inside a house — even looking at the little Emerson black and white TV. You couldn’t pull up a Minecraft adventure, or a video game, or a YouTube on that little machine. Life was outside.

Don Mitchell and Norris Campbell were on their bikes out in the yard. Did
I want to go see a dead snake? Of course I did.

We were off, down the dirt road we lived on — on our bicycles — a right turn into the Goodwins’ driveway, which kept going behind their house, straight ahead on through the church graveyard, onto school grounds, by the ballfield, and on to a less familiar place down behind the school. They were in the lead, we were pedaling right along.

My Roy Rogers bike (Roy was a cowboy movie star back then) had a saddlebag like a horse and a small molded head of Roy’s horse, Trigger, between the handle bars. (Bumping along on my bike, I could never have dreamed nor been persuaded that Roy Rogers would one day be unknown to most anyone alive.) Don veered slightly to the left around a large, ground- level square of cement; Norris veered right. I saw no reason to avoid it — it was about the size of a room. I didn’t notice that a deep ditch filled with growing green grass was around the perimeter of the cement.

The bike’s front wheel dropped into the ditch, the bike stopped, I kept going, my hands out in front of me. When I gained some sense of where I was, I was sitting on the cement, staring at my right hand. Where the thumb connects to the hand looked like no thumb joint I’d ever seen; the thumb was off at an angle, and a bone was pushing up from somewhere, but not breaking through the skin; it looked absurdly irregular. I screamed and started crying loudly. I have a vague sense that Don and Norris were with me all the way home, one of them pushing my bike.

My next clear memory is of my mother staring at my hand, asking me to sit on the front steps of our house, while she goes into the neighborhood to find a car so she can take me to the emergency room. My father is at work with our car. And next comes Teresa . . . oh gosh, last name escapes me. Teresa stands before me. She’s my age.

“What happened?” she asks.

“I think I broke my thumb,” I say, between sobs. I’m crying from fear as much as from pain — my thumb is deformed.

Teresa reaches out and gently takes my arm, turns it so she can get a good look. She announces: “They might have to take it off.”

Those words seared me — are still seared into my memory.

I tell the story above because it’s a story. And because it happened in my childhood — outdoors. These days, I drive through neighborhoods and I often see no children out of doors on bikes. Maybe I’m in the wrong neighborhood. Maybe I’m in the wrong town. Maybe I’m in the wrong century.

A careful parent, or a glazed-eyed teenager, might say, “You don’t get hurt when you stay inside.”

Yes, you do.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Why We Teach

Because love trumps money

By Clyde Edgerton

After a recent day of teacher protest in Raleigh, a Buzz from the StarNews went something like this: “If they want more money, why do they teach?”

One answer: “To educate young people in such a way that America doesn’t end up with about 40 percent of its adults who think like you do.”

For some reason, I’m guessing the question-asker is an adult male — kind of irreverent in an annoying way, annoyingly pushy, laughing in an annoying way about being pushy. This guy, let’s call him Norman, probably has a boring, well-paying job, and loves to watch TV and collect, say, bicycle spokes. He made Cs in high school, finished two months of college, then dropped out because it was boring.

Today, his boring job pays a pretty good salary — for a person with the creativity of mud. He has health insurance and is going to retire as soon as possible so he can spend the rest of his life watching TV and collecting bicycle spokes. He likes quiz shows and action films — the ones that aren’t too complicated. He likes to bet on sports. He dreams of being a millionaire. He knows that greed makes the world go around. Greed makes people work hard. Teachers aren’t greedy, so they don’t work hard.

I had Norman pictured as about 40 years old, making maybe 48 to 54 grand a year, but I just now had a switch-glitch.

I had him wrong.

Norman is actually a multimillionaire who lives carefully, counting his money. He got some lucky breaks. He thinks of himself as cool — though he doesn’t collect bicycle spokes — he has no hobbies; he’s a little less creative than the first Norman. He does have two Thomas Kinkade paintings except one of them doesn’t have the little original spot of real paint. He has a cool Mercedes. He’s 62, and has had some face-work. Maybe a little too much — since he looks kind of like a 38-year-old who’s constipated.

He’d volunteer in a public school if he could find one that paid $1,200 per hour. But why should he spend even a second thinking about public schools? He has a portfolio. And a nice $920,000 yacht. He has a membership in a high-end country club. (Don’t get me wrong — there are people in country clubs without face-lifts.) His thought is: What is public education anyway but a place for poor kids? Like the children of teachers. He, like the first Norman, asks, “If they want more money, why do they teach?”

They teach because most of them love teaching. Love it in spite of a collapse of respect for what they do — in spite of a surprisingly large percentage of their country’s budget going for “leadership.” Whoa. In spite of bosses with a Bluetoothed ear who sometimes visit in schools that might well expel a student who refused to un-Bluetooth her ear. In spite of insane testing mandates from the government. In spite of people working around them for $11 an hour — with their state government and local school board rubber-stamping those poverty-making wages.

They love teaching. They are rewarded by the look in the eyes of a child who is excited about learning something — like, say, a new language, how to play clarinet, or how to solve a calculus problem. They believe that look in the eyes of a curious child might, with some luck, be morphed into a dream that does not depend on money for happiness, a dream that finds purpose in serving others, that creates a permanent curiosity about the world, a permanent respect, even love, for their neighbors — even neighbors who have far less than they do. The deep excitement in teaching and learning is water for a thirsty nation.

While it’s appropriate to say, “Thank you for your service” to a vet, it’s just as appropriate to say, “Thank you for your service” to a teacher. Both make our nation safe. Both have tremendous power — one to destroy, one to build.

If they want more money, why do they teach? To build student insight and character through knowledge, and thus make our nation better able to handle something as risky as democracy.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Keenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

Papadaddy’s Mindfield


Or, how to start your own Vacation Club

By Clyde Edgerton

When my wife, Kristina, was told we could get four days and three nights in a Marriott hotel luxury suite with two bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, three or four TVs in Myrtle Beach for $9 (OK: $134) if we’d sit together for a one-and-a-half-hour lecture about time-shares, I said: Goodness. Why not?

Excuse me — not time-share, but some other name, like: Marriott Vacation Worldwide Club Getaway. “Time-share” is out of fashion in some quarters . . . the name, not the concept. There’s a guy who comes on cable radio and says, “I’m a lawyer, not very smart, but mean, and I’ll get you out of your time-share contract by suing the hell out of the time-share company, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll burn down your time-share and we will split the insurance.”

But with the Marriott Vacation Worldwide Club Getaway, rather than buying a two-weeks-a-year stay at one hotel suite, apartment, small closet or room (after which other people use it for the rest of the year, and get it dirty), you — in this new kind of setup — buy the possibility of staying in a luxury hotel about anywhere in the world when you go on vacation, and you use up a certain number of points each time that happens, depending on how big your abode is. You buy so many points a year for the rest of your life. If you don’t like the deal, that’s OK because you will die and leave it to your heirs, and they can do the same, like a home. Resale value? I don’t know.

Let’s jump ahead about one hour and 15 minutes into our lecture. I asked: “What’s your return rate?”

“Excuse me?”

“How many couples out of 10 buy in?”


“Wow, I’m surprised it’s that high. That’s pretty good.”

Now mind you, Kristina and I had decided that there was no way we could buy in. I mean there was the very slightest chance, but we vowed we would not be swayed. 

The luxury hotel was, well, luxurious. The January weather was nice, there were several football-field-size heated pools, a Jacuzzi. Our suite was two big bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, living room, all that. We just kind of relaxed. Our kids did what they do at home: They sat on a bed and looked into a cellphone. Well, that’s not fair — they do other things. Perceptions are sometimes a product of fear.

We got there on a Friday, and on Saturday morning, while the kids sit on their beds looking into their cellphones, Kristina and I head for the lecture. On the way, we walk around, out onto the beach and back. I mean, who needs the beach when you are at a luxury hotel? There is this bevy of nice grills near the beach area (inside the gate to the beach), these big cabinets of dark wooden cubbyholes for your beach paraphernalia (inside the gate to the beach). There are beach chairs, ping-pong tables, a gym (inside the gate to the beach). Suddenly, I realized the thing you go to the beach for, the beach, was not central to a Marriott Worldwide Vacation Club Getaway. Why? A guess: Nobody makes money when you go for a walk on the beach. And the gate keeps out the undesirables who might be walking by on the beach.

Just before the lecture, we enter a large room with bar, snacks, drinks, many couches, big green plants and lamps. I’d thought other folks would be coming in. Nope. It ended up, at first, being just three of us.

A nice young man, very relaxed, open collar, sports jacket, sits down with us and says, “This is definitely going to be low key. No high-pressure stuff.” We talk about where he’s from, his brothers and sisters, where he went to school. I like him. Surely he thinks we’re not interested, I think.

It is very low pressure . . . for about 40 minutes. After about 45 minutes we have taken a little stroll past beautiful, large 3-D photos of resort areas around the world, and we are now in a very small room. A guy who looks like Pancho Villa comes in. He wears two belts of ammo, crossed on his chest. He starts putting numbers on a white board with a blue felt-tipped pen — what our payments will be for a certain number of points a year. He’s good. I will later admit to Kristina that I was almost swayed. Then I think to ask, “Is there a maintenance fee?” Well, there is. Two grand a year for the moderate package we’re examining, and I think to myself: If we get away for only four nights in a certain year, that’s $500 a night out the gate.

We say to Pancho: “We are not doing this, sir. The end.” He changes tactics, halves all the numbers on the board, unclicks the safety-guard strap on his pistol.

We persist. Pancho gives up, and they run a woman in on us. No ammo belts. She says if we call her by 1 p.m. that day, we can get three nights and four days at any Marriott luxury hotel for $199 if we promise to come together for a 1-hour, 30-minute lecture. This is true. I realize that it’s the three out of 10 that’s driving the bus. I say, no thanks. She says $149. I say no. She gives us a business card and says, “Call me if you change your mind.”

We return to our suite, relax, enjoy our stay for another day, talk about how lucky we are to be one of the seven in 10. We gather our kids and their cellphones off their beds, return to Wilmington a day early, and have a family meeting. We’re going to start spending time at the beach, and in the yard, and walking, and going to state parks. We’re going to start our own Vacation Nature Getaway Club.

Features? Yard, beach, state parks.

Cost: Nada.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Keenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW. 

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Give Me That Old-Time Music

The comfort of familiar hymns

By Clyde Edgerton

After New Year’s Eve is a good time to think over the past year — or maybe the past 75, especially if something pops up that gives birth to memories that emerge from behind stacks of present-day urgencies and conflicts. 

I’ve recently been looking through the hymn book I grew up with in a Southern Baptist church — the Broadman Hymnal: a staple for many denominations back in the day. My looking through this book gave fresh birth to old memories. 

Most people, as children, sang songs. For me, it was religious songs. And many children, because they sing songs written by adults, mess up the meanings of words. 

In Sunday School at my church long ago, we children sang “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.” I always heard and thus sang “Jesus wants me for a sunbean.” In my mind’s eye, a sunbean was shaped like a butter bean (translation: lima bean) and had a silvery, bright sheen. I wasn’t sure why Jesus wanted me to be one. Who was Jesus anyway? I’d not quite figured that out by age 4.

In my church, after Sunday School on a Sunday morning, we kids went into the big people’s church and sat still or squirmed for an hour or so — usually with parents, a parent, or someone else’s parents — while things happened around us, and in the choir, and up in the pulpit. We didn’t get the big picture until about the age 12, when we finally clearly understood the nature of the universe and our place in it. 

Early on, well before the age of 12, all the hymns seemed benevolent and kind and good, in spite of my recognizing in those songs images of war — as well as of peace — of fear and hope, of the wild and the tame, the obedient and disobedient. But because of my place in my community and church, because of my beliefs, I felt very safe, unthreatened. 

Approaching the teenage years, sitting or standing in the big church, we still didn’t always comprehend clearly. There’s that famous example: the hymn “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear.” As: “Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear.” 

A song like “Standing on the Promises” was hard for me to grasp. I was unable to sustain a meaning for a participial phrase, “standing on,” along with the abstract noun “promises,” in the same sentence. I visualized “promises” as bridge trusses made of human arms. People in a far-off country stood on them. Therefore, the meaning of the song, though I’d sing the printed words, was mangled. 

“When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” brought visions of a bread roll with ears and legs — ambling doglike across a green meadow, having been called: “Come, Fluffy. Come, girl.” I was there watching because the hymn said, “When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.”

Then, yo, and verily, verily, we became teenagers. 

Teenage friends were allowed to sit together, sometimes all the way back on the back row. We’d play “Between the Sheets.” Teenager A would open the hymnbook to a random page and whisper the hymn title to Teenager B. B would say: “Between the Sheets.” 

I’m sitting here with the Broadman Hymnal now, as I write. I’m about to open to some random pages. 

“Dare to Be Brave, Dare to Be True” . . . “Onward, Christian Soldiers” . . . “Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow” . . . “I Surrender All” . . . You get the idea (and probably did before the examples). 

Now, as an adult, I enjoy singing the old hymns in church. I haven’t yet been able to enjoy contemporary religious music. I like what I heard as a child. Probably not so much because I did or didn’t understand meanings, but because back then I felt at peace. I felt very safe; meanings about life and the universe were absolutely true. Though my outlook has changed, it’s comforting to sing the old hymns, to reconnect with those feelings of security and peace.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Keenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW. 

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

It’s a Sign

A conversation with two small friends

By Clyde Edgerton

In a recent Star News letter to the editor, the writer suggested that the presence of a “Thank You, Jesus!” sign in a certain front yard was the reason that every tree in that yard stood tall after Hurricane Florence passed through — while many trees elsewhere had been blown down.

I was walking through my neighborhood with a couple of moles. They are blind of course, but they have smart phones that warn them if they are about to walk into something. Their names are Willy and Scottie. Smart moles — schooled in religion. They live under different yards in my neighborhood. They were talking about the issue.

Willy: What about somebody who wanted to buy a “Thank You, Jesus!” sign, but couldn’t find one because they were all sold out?

Scottie: Their trees would be saved because they thought about it in their mind.

Willy: Are you sure?

Scottie: Well . . . I don’t know for sure. Maybe the leaves would have just got blown off, but the trees would have stayed stood up, I’ll betcha. Or something like that.

Willy: Do you think the people over at your yard will get a “Thank you, Jesus!” sign?

Scottie: Oh, they already did — because they lost some trees, then read that letter to the editor. They got six signs. They put one in the trunk of their car, and one in their truck, one on their boat, and one in front of the dog house.

Willy: That’s just four.

Scottie: Oh, and one in the backyard. And one on top of the house.

Willy: On top of the house?

Scottie: Lightning.

Willy: And I’ll bet you if you take care of poor people and do unto others as you would have them do unto you, like Jesus said, then that means your trees won’t get blowed down, too.

Scottie: No. No. No. It just matters that they got that sign in your yard
. . . or in their car or back pocket. It don’t matter what you do. It’s like churches. No church trees got blowed down during the hurricane because of all those signs that churches put in their front yards.

Willy: Oh . . . you sure?

Scottie: Yep. God didn’t let any trees get blowed down in any church yards.

Willy: What if they did get blowed down?

Scottie: It’d be because they didn’t have the right sign up. The only thing that matters is if you got the right sign up. It’s all about signs. It’s like that in everything in the world. If you got the right sign and a fence around you, everything is okay. I even heard about a family who had a “Thank You, Jesus!” sign, and half of it was in their yard, and half was in their neighbor’s yard. One little prong thing was in one yard, and one little prong thing was in the yard next door. And the family next door had every one of their trees left standing after the storm — just like the family that owned the sign, and nobody could understand. You know why nobody could understand?

Willy: Why?

Scottie: Because that family next door drank wine and beer and were Democrats.

Willy: Whoa. But didn’t Jesus drink wine?

Scottie: No, no. He drank grape juice.

Willy: How do you know?

Scottie: It’s simple. He turned the water into wine but when him and all the others at that wedding started drinking it, it hadn’t had time to ferment.

Willy: Oh. That makes sense.

Scottie: It all make sense . . . if you know enough about religion. PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

My New Food Home

By Clyde Edgerton

This is a story about a way to get healthier without medicine, through food. No, don’t stop reading, please.

I had 20 migraines between October 2016 and April 2017. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about hitting myself in the head with a hammer, then decided to see my doctor. She gave me a prescription for migraines. One pill made me feel so bad I decided I’d rather have the headaches. I checked in with a neurologist, who basically told me he didn’t know what I should do, beyond keeping a migraine diary to discover my “triggers.” I envisioned a life of diary writing with continued migraines. I wanted quick relief — I wanted a relief app.

A friend suggested a book: The Migraine Brain. I read it. It had a bunch of “Don’t Eat This” lists, and while the lists didn’t always agree, they did overlap on certain foods. I was desperate. I went cold turkey and stopped eating or drinking anything beyond veggies, brown rice, fruit, and water — with beans for protein, and sparkling water for some pizzazz in my life.

I admit that I’ve silently looked down my nose at vegetarians. I once wrote in a book that when new parents get the baby seat all situated and fastened into the car, a cousin is going to come along, say it’s not put in right and then call the authorities. That cousin, I said, will be a vegetarian. If that’s funny, I’ve told folks, it’s because it’s true. Now I are one myself. (From that old joke: “I always wanted to be a grammarian and now I are one.”)

Here I was looking to become not only a vegetarian, but also a vegan — somebody I once visualized as soft-spoken and polite, wearing flip-flops, apt to be found sitting in a dark back room, listening to a podcast about . . . oh I don’t know — animals. 

I was willing to sit anywhere and drink spinach smoothies and listen to even classical music if that would help stop the headaches. I would become a veggie vegan spokesperson. A veggie vegan warrior, maybe — if by chance the headaches stopped.

I cut out all gluten, sweets, dairy products, alcohol, soy, bananas (the only fruit on most all the no-eat lists in the book I read), eggs, coffee and meat. I was that desperate.

Beans and rice, with sautéed onions and peppers, became my first island of refuge — my first meal friend.

This meat/potato/biscuit puppy was surprised that the world didn’t collapse. My fresh food list led to a new — I’ve got to say it — happiness. Because the migraines stopped cold — as if a miracle had descended — and a respite from the pain of migraines made up for any initial worry about food.

During the first month of different eating habits, I discovered excellent gluten-free breads in the freezer section at the grocery store while rediscovering simple cornbread (no gluten), corn chips, oatmeal, and ah . . . homemade granola. Refried beans became a favorite — and in any Mexican restaurant I could find a friendly meal. (Hold the cheese, please.)

More and more restaurants are catering to people who eat the way I now eat. You might be surprised. I’ve found great sushi. Sometimes with sushi I cheat a tad with a little white fish meat, as in the “Lean Queen” specialty roll at Yoshi Sushi Bar in Wilmington. I’ve called for it for takeout so many times — they see the incoming number and answer with, “Got it.”

When you are somehow restricted, a result may be liberation. Narrowed choices may bring greater enjoyment.

I discovered a bean burger cut up on a salad at PT’s.

I started satisfying my sweet tooth big time with cantaloupe, honeydew melons, and sweet potatoes — two in the oven on aluminum foil, hit 350 degrees and the timer for 1:37. And a rice cake with almond butter and honey is succulent.

And, listen . . . ice cream. I’ve screamed for it all my life. Several non-dairy, non-sugar (or very low sugar) ice creams are out there. Try it before knocking it. I make a tiny milkshake several times a week: a few ounces of almond milk and with a couple scoops of Nada Moo or S.O. ice cream substitute.

I lost 20 pounds in three weeks — and a year later, I’m still down 20. It helps that I’m walking two miles a day.

Narrowed choices have forced my finding really good recipes. I look forward to breakfast like never before: a layer of frozen blueberries, a layer of gluten-free granola with a few roasted pecans or maybe some trail mix for crunch, then a layer of a favorite in-season fruit with a dash of salt. Top off with ice cold almond milk (or hemp milk or flax milk). A dessert for me is often pecans and strawberries with strong decaf coffee. My old molecules have accepted new molecules coming through the door. Did I mention homemade granola? Or toast, avocado and fresh tomato? Gluten free pizza crust — served in many pizza parlors now?

I did try one steak a couple months ago. It landed in my stomach like a hiking boot.

My last physical exam showed lower cholesterol than ever, lowest weight in 50 years (by 20 pounds), and lower blood pressure than ever. You are what you eat.

My impetus to change my eating habits was 20 migraines in a few months. I’ve heard that a new habit materializes in two weeks to a year. I’ve passed the one-year mark. And yes, I’ve adjusted a bit: I’m back on an occasional egg and a serving of fish. But there are many reasons not to yield — not to return to my old-food home. I have a new new, better, tastier food home.

If you think you could feel better — consider cutting the gut-makers. Go lean. At least don’t scoff at us vegetarians, vegans, and hybrids. Consider joining us. Try it for one month.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.