Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Funeral, by Cletis

As I'm fairly sure I observed recently, there are tons and tons of really fine writers floating about the Internet, blogging for the sheer love of the act, and generally making not a dime for it. I dare to think I've found one of them, and here he is. His name is Jerry Richardson, and he writes more or less under the name of Cletis on a website called The Book of Cletis at I highly recommend that you visit there at your earliest convenience.

At any rate, the following piece by Jerry touched my heart in a number of ways, not least among them that I lost my father just over a year ago, on Nov. 11, 2009, and this spoke to me in very profound ways, though my father was only marginally like Jerry's (they were both cockmen, for instance). I really think you will enjoy this - especially if you love your father, as I did mine, and as Jerry clearly did his.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Creative Sunday #6 Funeral

I'm pretty sure my father was dead. I mean there we were at the funeral home consoling and being consoled and there he was in the casket looking better than he had in years. Looking back on it though I don't think Dad was exactly dead. I think he was more like partially dead.

My father was Vivian Richardson. He was born in 1910 in Southwestern Virginia and went to work in the coal mines at thirteen after his father was crushed in a rock fall. He retired when he was sixty-two, lived for another seventeen years, and sort of died on February12th, 1990. Like I said though, I'm pretty sure he hung around a few more days getting things the way he wanted them before he headed out.

Dad was handsome and well-built. He was right at six feet tall, slim and quick, with powerful arms. He had strong, patrician features and intense blue eyes which were quick to anger and quicker to laugh. His hair was plentiful and had been silver-grey for years. He told me it changed color after he washed paint out of his hair with a bottle of Clorox. My mother vouched for this story but then again she and Dad were married for almost fifty-five years and worked closely together.

Dad noticed everything and found laughter in almost all of it. He preferred situational humor and if nothing was going on naturally he would take some time to help it along. That’s why I believe he was only partially dead. He wanted one more crack at things.

Religion had not been my father's main interest. I know he went to church when he was a young man because that was the only place to meet girls. He read the bible but I believe that was primarily for the history and adventure. He knew a good deal about the women in the bible and seemed to have a particular fondness for Delilah. Mary Magdalene was also one of his favorites. He said he had known quite a few women like her and they seemed to be, all in all, pretty noble people.

Dad no longer attended church and must have been viewed by the local ministers as a hard man to bring down. He was greatly respected for his honesty and for the way he raised his kids, but I don't think the local churches held out much hope regarding his celestial prospects.

I remember only one occasion when he attended church and this stemmed from an incident involving me. I was hitchhiking from Lynch to Cumberland, Kentucky where I attended Southeast Community College. It was a cold day and I had been passed up by at least thirty people who had known me all my life and who generally attended church on a regular basis.

Finally, a young man I did not know stopped and gave me a lift. He said he was the new minister at the First Baptist Church and also said he was thrilled to be in Lynch. He said the people were wonderfully kind and Christian and he couldn't think of a place he’d rather be.

I told him I’d rather be anywhere else; that the place had more hypocrites per square mile than any place on Earth. I said I didn't think Christians should leave their halos in the church. What they should do is take their good works out into the community. I was freezing and laid it on thick.

That Sunday Reverend Jones tore in to his flock at the Baptist church. According to my sisters, he preached long and hard about what it means to be your brother's keeper. He drew on the parable of "the good Christian who passes up a hitchhiker he has known since birth". He followed that with the parable of "the Christian who leaves his halo in the corner as he leaves the church". Dad said he had never heard of those parables. I told him I had.

Several weeks later Reverend Jones made a visitation and invited me to a revival. Dad said he was impressed and would go with me. Baptist revivals are wonderful events where people dedicate or re-dedicate themselves to Christ. They laugh and cry and in general express their emotions in ways they wouldn't ordinarily do.

When we entered the church, people were still milling around laughing and socializing. The air was one of nervous expectation as the guest minister was a man of considerable reputation. He was noted with some envy by fellow ministers to be a persuasive man who was "...beloved by the Lord and feared by the devil".

I had never seen Dad so polite. He shook hands with astonished parishioners, asked about their families, commented on the beautiful fall weather, and gradually steered us to a pew about halfway back. I looked across the church and saw several of the deacons glancing our way and patting Reverend Jones on the back. You could feel the satisfaction throughout the room.

When the evangelist launched into his sermon, it was obvious he had one target. He preached. He invoked. He cried. He pulled out all stops. He warned that to leave the church unrepentant was to risk damnation. He cited anecdote after anecdote of men who had hardened their hearts, of men who would not allow Jesus into their lives, of men who had been killed by trains as they left the church parking lot.

Members of the church were beside themselves. Some were running to the front crying and proclaiming their faith. Others were being carried out in a swoon. The choir broke into "Bringing in the Sheaves," and that brought in more lambs. My father stood quietly with his head bowed and his hands resting lightly on the pew in front of him.

The minister warmed to the challenge. He threw off his coat and loosened his tie. He took the bible in his hand, took a deep breath, and set out again. This time he was all over the church --- moving, gesturing, making his case. He had a beautiful voice and used it to its full effect. He alternated between thundering and roaring and pleading and urging. He spent three-fourths of his time near my father and the other fourth looking in his direction. He gave all any man could give. Dad's response was to raise his head, smile politely, and look back down.

Finally, the Holy Spirit was worn out and things settled down. The minister made the final call and we filed out. Dad shook the preacher’s hand and praised his good work. He said he enjoyed the sermon and that it had given him plenty to think about. The minister offered a depleted smile.

I don't remember seeing my father in church after that but when he got older and his health failed, he began to realize his mortality and became more receptive to visitation. This is where Brother Hill entered the picture.

Brother Bertrand Hill was a church deacon and a man of faith and good works. He was genuine in his efforts to be Christ-like and my father liked and respected him. Brother Hill specialized in ministering to the ill and elderly and had found the near-death experience to be an invaluable ally.

His friendship with my father had strengthened in recent years and was the reason my mother sent me to ask if he would speak at my father's funeral. Services were held at the Tri-City Funeral Home in Benham, Kentucky and there was a big turnout. My father was well-liked and we had large families on both sides.

My oldest sister, Sue, my oldest brother, Bud, and my sister, Ann, flew in from California. My sister, Betty, drove in from Western Kentucky and I drove in from Maryland. My brother, Robert, who still lived in Lynch, drove down the street.

The day of the funeral arrived and people were filing by:

"Jerry," your dad was crazy as hell. I'm going to miss him."

"Thanks, Mr. Collier. He was a great guy."

"Funniest man I've ever known. Laugh at anything."

"Yes sir, he had a great sense of humor."

"Loved women. Did you know we called him "cockman" when we was young?"

"Yes sir, I know. Better not let my mother hear that."

"No, of course not. Before he knew her anyway. You take care now. I'm going over and speak to your mom."

"Thank you, sir."

"Hey Jerry, sorry about your dad."

"Thanks, Mr. Jamison. He was a great guy."

"You remember that time he got in a fight in the poolroom? Knocked Tom Haynes over the table before Tom knew what hit him. Tom told me later he thought he was fighting Three-Fist Wilson."

"I was little then, Mr. Jamison, but I've heard people talk about it."

"Well, your dad was a load when he got mad but he didn't hold a grudge. Bought Tom a beer ten minutes after the fight.”

"Yes sir, I've heard that."

"Well, take care son. I'm going over and speak to your mom."

"Jerry, it's good to see you. I'm sorry about your dad."

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I miss him already."

"He was a good man, Jerry. I worked with him for years. We still talk about that fart he cut over in 37 Mine. We were walking out and he laid in to it. Men were running and hollering. Your dad just kept walking. Best I remember it measured about seventeen feet and nine inches."

"You measured it, sir?"

“Your daddy did. Can't blame him. Hell, you can't let something like that go unrecorded. Jerry, you take care of yourself. I'm going over and speak to your mom.”

"Mr. Johnson?"

"Yes, son?"

"Don't mention the fart."

"No, of course not. That wouldn't be proper."

That was the way it went all morning until finally the service began and Brother Hill got up to speak. Brother Hill was in his seventies, a man of medium height, dignified and serene. He stepped up to the front and waited for quiet. My father was in the casket behind and to the right of Brother Hill. To Brother Hill's left was a young Baptist minister who had also agreed to speak. I couldn't help but notice his wife. She was blonde and very beautiful. I'm sure Dad was pleased.

Our family sat in the immediate front in the first row. I sat between my sister Ann and my youngest sister Betty. Brother Hill cleared his throat and began. He sang two songs in a strong, rich voice. There was no music but his voice carried easily throughout the room breaking occasionally as befitted a man of his age. This only served to make the song more beautiful and heartfelt. When he finished, a lot of people were crying.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Brother Hill said, "I’m here today to talk to you about the Lord Jesus and the wonders he has performed. He has touched my life and I’m sure he has touched yours as well. Many years ago when I was a young man I heard the call and knew I would dedicate myself to spreading the glorious Good News. I have been blessed and am humbled to stand before you today with the knowledge that through the grace of the Lord Jesus I have brought home three thousand two hundred and twenty-seven souls to date."

At this point, Brother Hill took a small, tattered writing tablet from his pocket and held it up. "In this tablet,” he continued, “are the names, dates, and times those three thousand two hundred and twenty-seven souls came home to the Lord. Many of you assembled here have known me for years and know of my work at Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital. It has been an abundant seam and I have mined it for the Lord. That's right. I am proud to have been a miner, a miner for the Lord."

This was beautiful stuff and things were going along nicely but we were at least ten minutes into the eulogy and Brother Hill had yet to mention Dad. People were shifting in their seats and you could feel a little uncertainty in the room. He picked it back up.

"I remember as a child knowing I would have a calling among the old and the ill. Other children would shun the elderly --- not me ladies and gentlemen. I gloried in the opportunity. I knew it would be my ministry, my province, the place where I could best serve the Lord Jesus."

He held the tablet up again. "Three thousand two hundred and twenty-seven souls are with the Lord today because of that ministry. Of course, I am only the earthly arm of the Lord Jesus; a humble servant if you will."

He went on for another twenty minutes and we all agreed later that it was an amazing oration. He did not, however, mention Dad or even glance in his direction. The assembly was restless and you could hear people moving around and clearing their throats. Brother Hill finally wrapped it up, looked out over the room, and started up again.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "l am here today to talk to you about the Lord Jesus and the wonders he has performed."

The air went out of the place. Brother Hill had gone senile and picked a heck of a day to show it. My sister Ann’s elbow hit me in the ribs.

"Do something," she said.

I'm not the eldest child. I'm fourth down the line but I did get up and walk to the podium and stand next to Brother Hill. He seemed to come out of his reverie and noticed me beside him. I put my arm around his shoulder.

"Brother Hill," I said, "you were a wonderful friend to my father and on behalf of my family I want to thank you for your kind words. Do you mind if I say a few things?"

"Of course not, Jerry," he said. "Your father was a great man."

He glanced toward the casket then leaned close to me.

"Did you know we called him "cockman" when he was young?"

For all practical purposes, that was the end of the service. I think Dad left about that time. I spoke for awhile and thanked my mom and dad for raising us right. Then, we got into our cars and drove across the mountain to the cemetery and buried Dad.

Funerals are never easy but thanks to Brother Hill we had a pretty good day.

Note from Cletis: "Funeral" was originally published in Now and Then. It is the sole property of the author, Jerry Richardson. We are grateful for the opportunity to publish his work.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


by Rich Miles

I got a question to ask:

Can someone riddle me this: IF a politician needs millions (or billions?) of dollars to run effectively for high office; and IF that pol needs to solicit contributions from wealthy and/or corrupt persons with large amounts of money to contribute; and IF, after contributing to that pol's campaign, the pol wins, and the contributor (wealthy, corrupt) insists on dictating to the pol what policies and beliefs the pol should espouse, and what laws s/he should propose and sponsor;

Then how does that transaction differ materially from bribery?

I've wanted to ask that question for years. In fact, I HAVE asked it to my friends and fellow-travelers in the Democratic party. Because of course, members of both parties do this - no false equivalence here, it's probably spread about evenly between members of both major parties, and nearly as much in minor-party candidates. But it's not against the law, even though the act and its consequences are pretty much precisely the same as the crime.

So what do we do about it, you're wondering? Well, we could adopt some variation on the British model, with vastly reduced time limits on campaigning, and vastly lower limits on campaign fundraising.

Or, we could continue to allow, nay insist on, our politicians and leaders being extremely expensive whores who spend the bulk - that is to say, over 50% - of their time raising money, and demeaning themselves into abjection to get it. And then, those whores are our leaders once they're elected.

Seems like an altogether unsavory system to me. Sorry, maybe I'm not seeing it somehow. It just seems like we need to change this.

Or maybe I'm wrong.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blood in the Streets

by Rich Miles

You know, I begin to think these Republicans are serious about destroying America.

I mean, take the article by Pat Garofalo, published on, and entitled "GOP's State of the Union Responder Would Set Higher Taxes on Middle-Class Than Millionaires".

I recommend reading the whole thing , but if you don't want the pee scared out of you, take this precis: The Republican Party thinks that no one but millionaires should have more money than is necessary to put a few cold potatoes on the table, and buy enough gas to get you to your menial, Republican-serving job.

Hell, I don't know about you, but that much alone scares the pee out of me.

Now let me explain something that, as so often with me, should be obvious, but has not to the best of my knowledge been stated by anyone in a position to be heard by more people than his immediate family.

First off, one of the main acts by the Republicans that is going to move America further down the crapper is the taxation of millionaires at a significantly lower rate than middle- and lower-class taxpayers. That is really going to hurt the nation because the federal deficit will GROW, not decline as Republicans claim it will.

So why don't they see this? Why don't Republicans recognize the damage this is going to do to the American economy, and many Americans as well?

The answer is quite simple, really - and I have thought this through, and I really believe it, and don't think there is any other overarching reason for the movement to tax millionaires at lower rates than the rest of us:

It's because so many Republicans, including so many members of Congress, are millionaires.

Yep, that's it: the destruction of America and its economy, and so many of its citizens, is nothing more than unenlightened self-interest.

And the fact that they're pursuing this with such vehemence shows that it's not possible to instill a conscience in a person, when his entire livelihood depends on him NOT having one. (Paraphrase intentional)

So in the absence of any way to get these greedheads to change their behavior in the interest of the country, the only way I can see to keep them from destroying our nation is...civil war.

Yes, I'm afraid that's the only way. And Democrats/liberals/progressives are going to have to learn guerrilla warfare really quickly, and quite covertly.

The only bright spot in all this that I can see is that the plutocrats will seek to hire the war out, while we on the left will try to do it on the cheap. No way of telling who will win in that scenario.

But civil war is the way - we have already slid down the ladder of international prestige so far that we are nowhere near the preeminent nation we once were. We might as well do something totally stupid and prestige-destroying like this. Hell, it almost couldn't hurt outside our borders.

But make me a better offer - how am I wrong? Don't just say I'm wrong - tell me HOW you think I'm wrong. Because I don't think I am. I know I have been wrong before - viz. my theory that George W. Bush would seek to not leave office in January 2009. And I hope I'm wrong this time. But I don't see any other way to save America.

Do you?

Wanna get your liberal juices flowing? Watch this movie

by Rich Miles

Back in 1976, a lady named Barbara Kopple released a documentary she had made called "Harlan County U.S.A.". It's the story of the struggle of the coal miners against the coal mine operators in, you guessed it, Harlan County KY, and the wonder of this film is how little has changed in the nearly 35 years since the film was made. There are still coal towns today - the only difference is that the miners and their families live in crappy worn-out trailers instead of crappy worn-out shanty shacks. The pay was not much over minimum wage back then - $2 an hour or so - and the pay is not much over minimum wage today - $7.50 or $8.00 an hour to start. And of course, the union leaders are still in the pockets of the operators, no matter what they say to try to get re-elected.

The miners inhale coal dust enough to kill themselves, and smoke like chimneys as well, as they are encouraged to do by advertising and the local store. And altogether, the miners and their families live in miserable abject poverty today, just like back then. And the operators make millions on the backs of those miners, and still resist safety reforms, and pay increases, and so on. The union is somewhat stronger today, but still not what you'd call strong - the cost of a strike to the owners is still just a cost of doing business, and they know they can outwait the miners, who need their piddling salaries far worse than the operators need to sell another carload to another utility company.

And if you can listen to all the songs in this film, most especially "Which side are you on?", and "Black Lung, Black Lung", and "Death, O Death", and not both cry for the poor men digging their own graves in the mines, and get furiously angry at the operators, then I don't know what to tell you about your humanity.

The film is currently playing on IFC, Dish Network Channel 131 and others, and if you're a liberal you need to see it. Even if you've seen it before, you need to see it again. Because it will make your heart beat for freedom and the working man, and unions of all stripes and types. And we need the help today.

And while you're at it, try seeing "O Brother Where Art Thou?". It'll very likely tap the same nerves, but with somewhat less direct purpose. But it's very entertaining nonetheless.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Predicting the same ol' shit

by Rich Miles

UPDATE: The Democratic representative mentioned in the third graf is Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY).

As I read all the stories today about the House vote to repeal health care reform, my mind is boggled by the realization that, in 2012 if we aren't destroyed by a South American comet or something, the likelihood is very great that the Republican majority in the Congress will become greater.

Because you see, your fellow Americans are just insufferably stupid, and will let the repugnicans hoodwink them over and over and over again! And the repugs are well-armed and well-disposed to do that hoodwinking, as we see in those same stories about the near-repeal.

A Democratic member of the House, I don't know who because it went by on TV so quickly, made a speech on the floor about how dangerous it would be to engage in the old drinking game where you take a drink every time something happens - in this case, every time a Republican says something untrue - and how one should enlist a designated driver if you do. Quite agree, quite agree.

For instance, every single Republican representative voted for repeal of the so-called "Obamacare". All of them, no exceptions.

Now when was the last time you saw that many people agree that thoroughly on ANYthing? Do you really think every single repug representative, and even a few Democratic traitors, had read the health reform bill, and knew what they were voting to repeal?

I kinda doubt it.

But there are voters all over the country who are cheering for the repeal of Obamacare without having any idea what that vote will cost America, and Americans, and THEM. And they will vote in 2012 for those repug representatives who saved America and the budget by voting to repeal health reform without even knowing what they were doing, or to how many people they were doing it. And there will be even more repugs in both houses of Congress, and they might even manage to drive the repeal through, as they claim they will. And all of us will suffer in ways we cannot even imagine now.

As I grow older, I simply goggle at the ongoing and apparently never-ending stupidity of so many Americans. I mean, this is not just my opinion - it's demonstrable that people are voting against themselves, their financial interests, and their children's interests, over and over and over.

And I call that stupid.

It may be 22 months till that election, but I see large numbers of Americans gearing up to exercise their God-given right to be as stupid as they wanna be.

Man, this democracy stuff is rough on the thinking man and woman.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Just wanted to let you know...

by Rich Miles

I don't really have much to say on this topic. I just wanted to stop by and let you all know, because to me it's very exciting news.

Tom DeLay (yes, THAT Tom DeLay) was sentenced to 3 years in prison today, for, in essence, money laundering.

I don't think there's any way he'll serve the entire sentence, but in any case, he's going to jail. The man described some years back as the most powerful politician in America - is going to prison. He might have to stay one year at least.

I am gleeful that at least this much justice was served.

Now all we need to do is get Shrub in prison. His crimes were not merely diddling about with cash.

He's a murderer and war criminal. Hell, he might end up going to jail for FOUR years. Or maybe for life.

One can only hope.