Monday, November 30, 2015


Now that I've had 24 hours to process Mom's death, I'm ready to talk about it.

I guess I'm just more of a spiritual person that I see other's as spiritual beings not bound by the earthen body they inhabit. I always loved my Mom's spirit. I didn't really want to come up for Thanksgiving and see her bound by the cancer-ridden, age-worn body she has had for weeks. She looked as bad as I had feared. Every time I walked by her sitting in the high back chair in her living room, I felt like I needed to go over and take her pulse. But nothing was worse than seeing her as a corpse yesterday morning.

I got up around 4:30 and showered. Got my girls moving and had them wake up Dad before our departure. We said our goodbyes and around 5 a.m., I went in to kiss Mom on the forehead. It didn't feel right under my lips. No warmth. Concerned, I told Dad to check on her and hugged his neck one more time. The girls and I left. I figured if something was wrong, he'd call me back into the house immediately. Nothing. Fifteen minutes later, I'm pulling into a Speedway station in Noblesville to fillup before hitting I-69. I look down and see the text from Dad.

I raced back to Dad's, upset with myself that I didn't stay while he checked on Mom. She was dead. Her spirit had left her body sometime between 2 and 5 a.m., probably closer to 5 as Dad felt warmth on the back of her leg.

The image of her lying in her bed, eyes partially opened, mouth gaping open, exposing her bottom teeth is now burned into my memory. I'll never not see mother's corpse laying there as if in a morgue. I hated it. I had to go in there with various family members, but I tried not to look at her. That wasn't Mom. She was no longer there.

I understand that people have to grieve and say goodbye in their own way, so there is no judgment at all. Just that, for me, I had already said goodbye. I didn't need to lay next to her corpse and touch her or talk to her as if that were still my Mom. It wasn't. She may have been in the room with us, hovering over us or wherever spirits go in the immediate departure of their body, but she was no longer in that earthen vessel. And thank God for that!

Her soul-less body laid there for hours until we had it removed by the mortuary service we are using. That body will be ash in less than 48 hours, now. That's what Mom wanted.

I want to remember Mom for the vivacious person that she was on the inside--passionate, emotional, feisty, loving, funny, artistic, creative, genuine...

My Mom had a great sense of humor. She didn't always say funny things, but she appreciated comedy. We'd laugh at the stupidest things, finding humor in other people's shortcomings, in sheer goofiness and shocking comments. Mom was very sarcastic and appreciated my smart-aleck side even when it annoyed her. I could always get her to laugh, usually at the most inappropriate things or comments. I do inappropriate well...but that's because Mom let me know it was okay to sometimes step over the line and go for shock value. We'd laugh at Pee Wee Herman or at Michael Richards on the sketch comedy show Fridays or the insane, improv on SCTV. She taught me how to laugh, not only at comedians but at myself. I learned not to take myself too seriously from her. One of the things I will miss the most about her is her laugh. I'll miss how I could steal her breath through laughter and cause her to double over, covering her mouth, eyes closed with tears streaming down her cheeks. It didn't happen often, but when it did...I knew I had struck comedy gold!

My Mom loved good music and instilled in me a great sense of rhythm and soul. She preferred the Motown of her childhood and the harmonies of groups like Mamas and Papas, Beach Boys or the Carpenters. It's the thing that set her apart from Dad, who tended towards classical, rock-n-roll and (gawd help us all) bluegrass. Yes, it was Dad that first introduced me to banjo, but I digress. Both had a love of music, but Mom's music had more rhythm and soul. I remember listening to her Johnny Mathis records while she cleaned house and I created more messes for her to clean. I remember when she first introduced gospel music into our home. Mom's love for harmonies and a good beat you can dance to were a big influence on me growing up.

It was that spirit that loved to laugh, loved to create and share good music that made her who she was to me, not the body with all it's limitations. She was a fun Mom. She was a loving Mom. She was equal parts compassion and "what did I tell you?" no-nonsense. She was always my go-to. I regret the two years we rarely talked just after my separation and subsequent divorce, but I'm so thankful we were able to put that behind us last summer. I'm equally thankful that I got to come up and visit with her three times this year--July, September and November. And as hard as it was to see her failing body, I am glad I was here when she passed.

Now, we have a service to plan, people with whom to grieve and things to sort out. It's not a fun task, but a necessary one. The first steps of moving on are never easy, especially when those steps don't include your Mom. She is already sorely missed. But her spirit lives on. And we have tons and tons of great memories.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Pancake Batter

It's probably not good to mix your pancake batter with tears, but that's nearly where I was this morning. And it's got me feeling totally nostalgic. I don't know. Maybe it was the Beatles listening party I attended last night, or listening to Magical Mystery Tour on the laptop this morning, but I nearly spilt happy tears, nostalgic tears into my Hungry Jack Extra Light and Fluffy earlier.

The girls were both taking showers to get ready for school. I had already browned a pan of Lil' Smokies and was allowing the freshly mixed batter to sit and rise (it makes for super fluffy pancakes). As I stood there at the stove in my ex-wife's house, pouring the fluffy mixture into a pre-heated skillet, my mind raced back to the spacious kitchen at 12983 Quarterback Lane where I used to prepare this same breakfast staple on a ceramic top, stainless steel range. My girls were much younger then--Makenna in first grade and MK repeating 3rd (she swears it was second, but I think I remember). Those were the mornings I'd be up early, starting the coffee for my wife and I, packing lunches with love note napkins and mixing that pancake batter. As this morning's first pancake was sizzling on the hot skillet, I reached for a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips and my eyes were full of happy tears over the years of memories making this same morning treat for my sweets.

As I sprinkled in more than a dozen chocolate chips, I welled up with gratitude for the years I've enjoyed being the girls "special daddy." Sorta like the tears I'm fighting back now. Nothing in all my life has made me as happy/fulfilled as being a dad to two precious girls. I used to walk them three blocks to school on crisp autumn mornings in Indiana. Walking back, sometimes with our family dog(s), I was always wearing a smile...happy in the thought I'd just made the best investment of a lifetime. Now, my girls are much older and I hope they've learned to appreciate the investment. Makenna has always told me that the secret ingredient in all of my cooking is LOVE. And she would be right. The pancakes I made this morning--and every time I've made them on countless school mornings, birthdays and weekends--were made that way. When I told her that as she joined me stove-side this morning, Makenna fought back tears, too. I think she saw the misty emotion in my eyes.

That nostalgic feeling carried over to my trip home from the insurance agency, where I had to make another installment on my auto insurance. Driving up St. Augustine to Madison, I decided to pull in front of the Claude Pepper Building into the loading zone where I used to pick up the girls' mother from work after leaving my office on campus. I worked in that building for a short while, too, so I was well acquainted with the Eatz Cafe' in the lobby level atrium. I wasn't used to the new "check in" procedures, but I signed in and went through new security doors to reach the empty atrium dining area. I purchased some scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes and sausage gravy for around $4 and sat there eating alone...just me and my memories. The ladies in Tracy's office threw us a baby shower for Merikathryn in that atrium, just a few feet from where I was eating breakfast. That was in 2001 when MK was still Merikathryn and such a cute little baby. No, I didn't cry inside the Pepper Building, but I certainly felt this blog post coming on.

I called Tracy after I had left to tell her of my fond memories. She was tied up in an out-of-town training workshop, so I just told her to read this post when she had time.

Our girls have given us many years of happy memories. MK's adoption 14 years ago still seems like a recent one. Then again, it seems a million lightyears away. As I looked at her this morning, double backpacks, embarking on another day in 8th grade, I was amazed at what a beautiful young lady she has become, seemingly overnight. Well, that does it for this entry. Hope you've enjoyed walking with me down memory lane. :)

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Low-hanging fruit, anyone?


Thursday, September 03, 2015


When I had a brief talk with a friend, yesterday, he told me he was getting his priorities in order--God, family, music--and that they'd gotten out of whack some time ago. And while I may not share the same priorities in my life, I realized mine needed some reorganizing, too.

I joined a band back in April and was having a fair amount of fun playing live music again. But the music community here in Tallahassee is much different than the band of brothers I enjoyed in the Fort Myers area. And the venues here are not quite the same, either. It's hard to compare The Cottage, an old beach house on stilts overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, to the Moose Lodge. The pay was much different, as well. I kept telling myself, "You're doing the thing you love."

But before I joined the band, I started helping a very good friend of mine run his restaurant. Restaurants are busiest on the weekends. It was never a good fit for me to play in a band...on weekends, but I took Fridays off to do the thing I enjoy most, even if it meant a loss of income. For me, right now, that has to be priority number 2, behind my daughters. My income needs to get me to a place of financial freedom where I can afford a place of my own large enough to accommodate them--my daughters, the loves of my life.

In order to get to that place, I needed to make the band less of a priority and focus on making more money at work. And to be honest, I love being at the restaurant, too. My best friends all work there and it is a social outlet for me, much like the band was. I can make more money there on Fridays than I can in the band, so that was an easy decision to make. Well, sort was easy financially speaking but difficult because I'm giving up the thing I love. I'll miss my friends in the band, too.

But it all comes back to priorities. If my girls are number one, then making number two my job will surely help me to reach some important goals this year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

10 Years a Blogger

Wow, how time flies.

I began this blog as an outlet...for my spirituality, creativity, love of music and football...back in a time in my life when I was very confused. Fighting to let the real me out of the box, I'd turn to my blog and write. That was 2005.

The very next year was what I call my "mid-life crisis" when that crazy, adventuresome boy finally escaped his shell. Things went a little haywire that year, for sure, but I wouldn't trade that rollercoaster ride for anything. No, that year brought a lot of things to light...and I let my passion get the better of me. But it was good to free all that raw energy, to stir that deep well inside of me and to be as expressive as I wanted to be.

It certainly took it's toll on my marriage. We tried running away to Indiana, where much of the time, I kept myself hemmed in, but that boy was already loosed on the world. Just like Pan and his shadow, there was really no way to keep us separate--the man I wanted the world to see and the boy inside. So after four years of trying to live in that duality, keeping myself in check, we moved to paradise.

On Fort Myers Beach, the boy ran wild up and down the 7-mile island, along some of the softest sand you've ever felt, making new friends, experiencing things he'd wanted since childhood and living fairly carefree. Except there was still a marriage to tend to. I didn't do so well at tending. My marriage finally dissolved, as I realized it wasn't what my heart wanted. My heart wanted to be free to love who it would.

I was playing in a band with a beautiful brunette who swept me off my feet. She became available about 6 months after my separation and we began dating. I hadn't intended to get hitched again, but my heart kind of ran away with me. Again, I was trying to be as carefree as that boy inside wanted to be. Unfortunately, the damaged little girl in her couldn't receive love from a carefree soul like me and both of us fell into some bad patterns. I think we were both a little crushed inside because, at first, it seemed like a perfect fit. It ended badly.

Still, like the rollercoaster I was on in 2006, I wouldn't trade that time with her for all the time in the world. I was still learning to express my feelings, to truly be in touch with myself, to allow myself to love freely and be loved and to experience new things, like getting half naked at a nudist bar in the Keys (a story for another time).

While I was on "my beach," I played in a rock-n-roll cover band...something I'd always dreamed of doing. I realized very quickly that I was meant to be a beach kid...a bum, if you will. I lived on very meager means, borrowing an RV from some dear friends, who I still miss terribly. But even through poverty, divorce and a rebound relationship, I wouldn't trade that time on the island for all the love and riches in the world.

All of these experiences made me the sensitive soul I am today. So here I am, ten years after I started blogging, back in Tallahassee to be nearer my kids. I'm still learning, experiencing growth and living one day at a time. It's been quite the adventure. Feel free to take some time and look around. I haven't blogged all that regularly in many years, but from time to time, when something strikes me or I just need to get it out, you'll find me here.

Life is good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

200+ Years in Indiana

My ancestral roots in Gibson County go back to pioneer times back when Indiana was still a territory. I've spent countless hours researching my pioneer heritage and those branches of my Mills family who spread out from Gibson County, Indiana to Oklahoma and points beyond. Here's a little about the first generation of my Hoosier-born ancestry on mother's side.

Berilla Louisa Mills-Greek (1829-1908) provided the launching pad for my research. My third great-grandmother provided the family story published by Gil R. Stormont in his 1914 "History of Gibson County." She recounts how her Grandfather Mills' family emigrated from lower Maine to what would become Gibson County in southwest Indiana. Berilla weighed only one pound at birth 14 Mar 1829 in Princeton, IN; her twin brother, Zyasa, weighed seven pounds and yet died the following day. They were the first of three pairs of twins born to Duston and Louisa (Stapleton) Mills. Their's was the first full generation of Mills to be born on Indiana soil. After her marriage to Joseph Greek in 1848, the couple moved from Vanderburgh County (Evansville, IN) to a farm five miles east of Princeton. Joseph was a bricklayer at the time of their marriage, but he eventually took up farming in the rolling hills between Princeton and Francisco, IN, in a rural community known to locals as Fairview. She bore Joseph twelve children in all. Such was the case with Indiana farming families. The more children meant more hands for the hard labor required by that occupation.

Besides a twin brother who died a newborn, Berilla had a sister Adelia (1831-1853) who married Charles King in Gibson County, 1849. She bore him two children who went to live with grandparents, Duston and Louisa Mills, in Princeton after her death in 1853. A third sister, Cecilia Ann (1832-1875), born just 19 months after Adelia, married twice--Henry Bucklin in 1853 and George W Smith in 1871.

Berilla's fourth sister, Zelissa (1833-1886), followed suit in marrying a member of the Greek family--Samuel, Joseph Greek's younger brother by five years. Coincidentally, Samuel had been married previously to a daughter of Bracket Mills of Evansville, who was a first cousin to the Mills of Gibson County. Cousin Emily died at the age of 24, just two years after her marriage to Samuel and before she bore him any children. Zelissa married the widower in Gibson County just two days before Christmas 1852. They had one daughter, Lulu, and Zelissa died of liver and bowel disease in 1886, age 53. Samuel built the Garden City Mill in downtown Princeton in 1871.It sat along Chestnut Street near North Main St., just east of the Louisville, Evansville & St. Louis RR Depot. Adjacent to him, another Mills, Byron (1835-1908) brother to Zelissa Mills-Greek, ran the Peoples Planing Mill.

Byron took up the family business, carpentry, at an early age. He married Mary Jane Curry in 1855. He was a lifelong resident of Princeton, IN, with a home at 514 N. Race St., about four blocks east of his mill. His wife was near term with their fourth child when Byron enlisted 21 Oct 1861 in Company B of the Indiana Volunteer Infantry (Union Army). Besides running the planing mill, "a dealer and manufacturer of rough and dressed lumber, flooring and ceiling manufactured to order, in hard or soft lumber," (published on a county map by DJ Lake & Co, 1881), Byron was a charter member of the Grand Army of the Republic Post 28 in Princeton. Mary Jane bore him eight children before her death in 1882. He, then, married Ellen Spencer of Evansville. He died in 1908 of cirrhosis of the liver.

That brings us to the seventh child of Duston and Louisa Mills, a son, Horace Ames (1838-1856), who died at the age of 17, cause unknown, and is buried in the old Page Cemetery just east of Princeton, IN. Of the three sons born to that family by 1840, only one, Byron, had survived to adulthood. Firstborn Zyasa died an infant and Horace a teen.

Born in 1840, daughter Elvira (1840-1913) never lived on her own nor did she ever marry. She was not of sound mind, or as one census taker noted in 1880, "idiotic." At the time of her death, she was living with her nephew Guy Olds, near Francisco, IN.

Albert and Polly Mills Family, early 1900's

The second pair of Mills twins born on Indiana soil were Almena (1843-1878) and Albert (1843-1920). The latter became a local Civil War hero while his twin sister married a first cousin, Edgar Mills of Evansville, and died in her mid-thirties after bearing one daughter. Albert enlisted in Co. B. about three weeks after his brother Byron. Nearly three months to the day after mustering out of the Union Army, he married Polly Ann Yeager of Princeton. Up until the Civil War, Albert had lived on his father's farm and then obtained 80 acres known as the Weidenbach farm, where he lived until moving to Princeton in 1870. His sister, Berilla, wrote, " He was elected constable of Patoka Township, in which position he served four years and was then interested in the sawmill business for 25 years, also following carpenter work about ten years. He has been employed by the Southern Railroad Company at their shops for the past ten years (ca. 1914), and is numbered among their most faithful and efficient employees." He and Polly lived at 330 E. Monroe Street in Princeton. They raised five children.

The final pair of twins--children eleven and twelve to Duston and Louisa Mills--were Mary Katherine (1846-1930) and John (1846-1922). John married twice in Princeton--to Eva Paul and Fannie King--and lived at 621 Seminary Street, then 820 S. Race St, before moving west. Family stories say that his twin sister, Mary Katherine, was friendly with the Native Americans living on the Patoka River and tutored some of them. That's how she met her husband, a member of the Miami tribe, Cass Olds. He took her out west, where they married in Iowa, 1870, before moving to Missouri. By the mid-1880's, they were divorced and had six children together. She had lived out in California with one of their sons around the turn of the century, but was back in Gibson County, IN, by the time the 1910 U.S. Census was taken. She lived with various family members in and around Princeton where she died in 1930. Her twin brother died in 1922, making her the only one of the 12 Mills children to live long enough to witness the Great Depression.

Aside from being carpenters who made everything from flatboats to log cabins to milled flooring, the Mills were also learned men who practiced law, served in public office and helped to establish the towns of Princeton and Evansville. This brief recap is of my direct ancestors on my mother's side, who was born a Larson. Her grandmother was born a McEllhiney and the granddaughter of Berilla Mills-Greek who is at the forefront of this post. That is my direct connection to this great pioneering family. Berilla's grave is clearly marked and sits alongside a corn field in Center Township, Gibson County, in the area briefly described above as Fairview, between Princeton and Francisco. Sadly, the burial sites for her father, Duston, and grandfather, James, the patriarch who led the family from Maine to Indiana, are unknown. James died of milk sickness while living with another of his sons and the entire family was buried in the Patoka River bottoms, precise location unknown. Duston, my fourth great-grandfather, presumably died in Princeton in 1875, and though we know much of the story of his family, I do not know where he and Louisa (d. 1882) were laid to rest.

I'll share more about the other branches of this family in a future post, so stay tuned. (Note: The State of Indiana celebrates it's bicentennial next year. My family has owned a Gibson County farm throughout the state's 200-year history.)

Monday, July 06, 2015

Slavery, the flag and the war

Is this flag offensive to you? It is to me. And with all the debate surrounding it's use of late, I thought it a good time to put my views on slavery, the flag and the Civil War out there.

Sadly, it took our country more than 100 years to recognize African-Americans as fully-ordained citizens. From being viewed lower than livestock during the first half of the 1800's to finally receiving equal rights in the 1960's, our treatment of our black brethren was shameful, at best. And slavery remains a stain on the fabric of our nascent history. It took a young kid from Indiana only one viewing of the "Roots" miniseries on NBC in the 1970's to realize the wrong that had been done to them. I was sickened by images of young female slaves being dragged off and raped by their white overseers. The miniseries made me angry, sad and sick to my stomach.

Likewise, the flying of the Confederate flag stirs up those same feelings, for when I see it, I imagine it's user being the most vile of southern racists, stuck in a pre-1960's mindset of intolerance and hate. That is what the "stars and bars" represents for many Americans. For that reason, alone, it is offensive and should be taken down from statehouses and halls of justice. And just what "heritage" does it represent, exactly? A southern heritage of intolerance, injustice, inequality and white privilege? Quite a heritage, I must say. And if, to you, it's nothing more than a battle flag of the failed experiment called the Confederate States of America (CSA), then why fly the loser flag at all? In most battles, the tattered flag of the losing army, in this case the CSA, is lowered and the victor's flag raised. The Confederate flag represents all the wrong things--losing, at best, and hate, at worst.

Finally, I've grown very tired of the Southern revisionists who would have us believe that the Civil War was not about slavery. It was only fought over issues like autonomy, states' rights and independence.

So was the issue of slavery really a catalyst for war? I think it was. So does this article from So does Christopher Dickey, who wrote of the radical southerners and successionists, "Their cause was slavery: holding slaves, working slaves, buying and selling slaves—black chattel considered less than human beings by custom, by the courts, and even by the Constitution, whose authors never mentioned slavery but weasel-worded it into the founding document of the Union." And I agree with him. Slavery was the economy of the South. Successionists wanted to preserve their way of life, a life made entirely possible by slave labor and the crops they harvested for market. Dickey purports, "The hunger for that fresh territory and the slaves to work it was insatiable...More land, more slaves, meant more money and more power to dominate the federal government and make it support people who wanted more land, more slaves and more money." In Dickey's view the South was a "slavocracy" because, as I've always argued, their economy was built on the backs of slaves. Thus, the preservation of that economy and the war they fought for that aim was, in fact, a conflict to preserve slave ownership, plain and simple. Yet, as the article in points out, revisionists have always tried to paint it as something else. All of their vain attempts to veil the true intent of the Civil War, using terms like "state's rights" and "preserving our heritage," is just wordsmithing to remove slavery from the vocabulary of war historians. Some of us are smart enough to see through that flimsy veil, even when modern-day racists raise it in defense of things, like the use of the Confederate flag.

That's my .02 on the issue. And please, quit telling me to revisit the history books. I'm quite well read, thank you.

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