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Archive for June, 2010

Riding Carolina In The Back

Of A Watermelon Truck

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Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

The old man’s dogs

ride up front,

so we ride in back

of a tread slapping

pickup truck,

.

in the middle of

duffel bags, melons

and Carolina sunshine.

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People think us two fools

don’t have a lick of sense.

No seat belts, no helmets,

no cell phones, no money.

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But we’ve got flip flops,

curving dirt roads.

Smoking barbecue pits.

Overhanging oaks.

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Juke joints lit up at night

with gold paper lanterns.

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We’ve got general stores

with old rusty signs

that swing in the breeze.

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On one side of the road,

there’s a little white church.

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On the other side,

Big Gem’s Truckstop

tells us they’ve got

.

the best topless women

in McCumber County.

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We’ve got morning again

and ninety eight degrees

of tailgate wind,

.

cold coffee in a tin cup

and hunks of

warm sugar hearts

in our hands.

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We’ve got the strong

backs of black mountains.

Folks who tell stories

on a blue front porch.

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The roll of an ocean.

Clams popping on a fire.

Mouths full of salt air

under deep marsh stars.

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We’ve got red clay hills,

cotton and tobacco fields,

woods, bobcats on rocks.

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Rivers that slide

through our soul.

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We’ve got Carolina

skies so ripe they

split open red.

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We’ve got a hill

by Coyote Lake

for the fourth of July,

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three panting dogs

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and an old man

with a watermelon truck

playing Crossroad Blues

on his father’s dobro.

.

We lay on our backs

in damp grass

and fall asleep again,

.

still bouncing along

the road in our dreams,

.

little seeds of heaven

between our teeth.

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Green As A Dollar

Hazardous Duty

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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Gator Jonson is the best worker we’ve ever had.  Unlike the younger guys,

he doesn’t whine about physical labor.  Sometimes he works inside

underground pipes.  Sometimes he hangs from ladders or operates

backhoes.  Other times, he’s on the side of the road, shoveling diesel fuel

spills.

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Environmental cleanup is nasty work.  Our office has a high turnover rate.

The field workers are on call 24-hours a day.  They handle chemicals, mud,

sludge, oil, meth labs, shit, and sometimes blood.  College students often

come to work for the summer.  Many of them don’t last three weeks.  Gator

is here for the long haul.

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The boss refuses to promote Gator to supervisor.  “That frigging hillbilly is

older than dirt,” he says.  “I need boys who can hustle.”

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But I love it when Gator works a job, because I’m the office grunt, the

schmuck who pretties up this place on paper and sends it all to the E.P.A.

Gator turns in his field notes on time.  His paperwork is neat, and his

numbers are always correct.

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Every day, Gator takes off his hat, peeks around the door, and I wave him

into my office.  The pants of his uniforms are ironed with a crease.  He is

soaked with sweat, but his shirt is buttoned to the collar.  Those are

company rules.

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Gator has bright green eyes.  He has a long, gray ponytail, but his pork chop

sideburns are solid white.  When he hands in his paperwork, he always

tells me a joke.  Even when Gator’s jokes are corny, I throw back my head

and laugh.

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“Have a good day, ma’am,” he grins.  Then he heads out the door.  His left

arm hangs a little crooked.  He is short and has a bow-legged limp from all

the pins and rods in his legs.

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Gator was a poor boy from the Appalachian mountains.  When Uncle Sam

called his number, Gator went to Vietnam.  He became a Tunnel Rat.  He

crawled through tight, dark holes with a pistol and a knife.  Gator came

home from the war with a purple heart, crushed bones, and a lot of bad

dreams.

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In those days, Gator drank too much.  Then he met a sweet, chubby woman

from Arkansas who set him straight.  They had five children.  Gator got a job

with a large cleanup company.  He bought a brand new trailer for his family.

For the next thirty years, Gator crawled through pipes and sewers, cleaning

up underground leaks.

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Gator is the only one at this branch who is licensed to drive the vacuum

truck.  It is a large truck with a tank on back that holds thousands of gallons

of liquid and sludge.  Companies call for the vac truck when there is an oil

spill in a waterway or if waste in a factory tank needs to be disposed.

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Earlier today, the boss sent Gator to a factory to pump waste from a tank.

The tank wasn’t leaking, but the liquid must be disposed.  As usual, I was

mad when I heard about about the job, because the boss didn’t bother to get

a Material Safety Data Sheet.  I had no idea what we’re dealing with.

.

So I made a few phone calls and found out that the tank holds some type of

acid.  I looked it up on the internet.  There was a large skull and crossbones

next to the information:  Hazardous material.  Extremely toxic.  Fumes will

cause severe burns to skin.  Corrosive to stainless steelOverexposure will

cause lung malfunction and death.

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I printed off the safety information and ran into the boss’ office.  “You’ve got

to stop Gator,” I said.

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The boss looked up from his computer.  “What?”  The screen was turned

sideways, and I could see that he was playing online poker.

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I shoved the paper under his nose.  “Look at what it says!  Corrosive to

stainless steel!”  I was almost yelling.  The boss didn’t look at the paper.  He

gave me a long, quiet stare.

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I sighed and tried to calm down.  “You know…the liquid you’re sending

Gator to suck out of that tank?  It could burn through the valves of the vac

truck.  Aren’t the valves made out of stainless steel?  Do you know?  The

fumes are hazardous.  It could kill Gator.  It could kill somebody in the

plant.”

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When he still didn’t respond, I added “We could get sued.”

.

The boss looked at me without blinking.  His face turned red.  I could hear

the ticking of his clock above the door.  “You don’t need to worry about

what goes on with my men in the field.  It’s taken care of,” he said.

.

But I knew it wasn’t.

.

I went back to my office and spent the next two hours leaving messages for

Gator.  I paged him.  I called the factory.  A bored, female voice told me the

plant supervisor had gone to lunch.  “Look, can’t you page him?”  I asked.

“This is an emergency, damnit!  It’s a matter of life and death.  People in

your plant could get hurt badly or even die.”

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“I’ll be sure to pass along the message,” she said, and hung up.  I called back

several more times and received a voicemail.  The message inbox was full.

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An hour later, my phone was ringing off the hook.  A lot of impatient voices

wanted to talk to the boss.  Then Gator walked through the door.  He wasn’t

wearing a shirt.  His pants were hanging in strips.  Red marks across his

cheeks were turning into welts.  His right eyelid was swollen.  Blisters

bubbled up around one of his nipples.  The skin on his shoulders was a swirl

of red, black and purple.  Bits of blood dotted his chest and looked like a

thousand tiny stars.

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The acid had leaked from the hose as soon as Gator started pumping.  He

stopped the flow and capped the tank.  That was all he could do.  It ate

through his clothes before he could get to the emergency shower.  The plant

had to be evacuated.  His cell phone and pager stopped working.  Two

people fainted from the fumes.  He left just as the ambulance was arriving.

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The boss leveled his gaze at Gator.  “An ambulance?  They sound like a

bunch of paper pushing pussies to me,” he said.  Then he chuckled and

handed Gator a little envelope.  “Here’s your paycheck.  That ought to make

everything good.  You’re not hurt, are you?”

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Gator glanced down at the envelope in his hands.  “Nah.  I’m okay.”

.

Gator hobbled off to the shop out back.  The boss went into his office and

shut the door.  He talked for a long time in hushed tones.

.

The phone in my office rang several more times for the boss.  Then the

phone rang for Gator and me.  Another plant on the east side of the county

needed a vac truck immediately.

.

I knew Gator would go to the new job instead of the hospital.  The boss has

given several lectures about how our accident numbers are too high.  It

costs the company a lot of money.  Still, I wanted to urge him to go get his

burns checked out.

.

I found Gator in the back of the shop, sitting on an old bench, rubbing

petroleum jelly on his chest.  There was a fresh uniform hanging next to

him.  It was neatly pressed and ready for work.

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Lonely Road - Photo Taken By Amber Yoder

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Old Ohio Schoolhouse - Photo Taken By Amber Yoder

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Another Ohio Schoolhouse - Photo taken by Amber Yoder

All photos ©Amber Yoder

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Thoughts and prayers for the good folks in Ohio and throughout the Midwest who are suffering after last week’s tornadoes.

People in Arkansas, Illinois and Tennessee suffered devastating floods. People in Haiti are still suffering.  So are the coal miners and their families in West Virginia.  People in Iran suffered just for speaking their minds.  The people in the Gulf coast.  Afghanistan.

Sometimes, the list of people who are hurting seems endless.

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But with every horrible incident, there are stories of courage and survival.  We read a few of the stories in the news.  More often than not, people all over the world are quiet heroes.  They probably wouldn’t describe themselves as heroes, because they are doing what they have to do.  In my eyes, that is heroic.  They don’t give up.  They wake up every day and keep on breathing and trying to smile, despite the odds.

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I wrote this poem several years ago.  It seems fitting today.  I’m posting it now to honor a region and a dear friend.  She is one of my heroes.  She is quietly beautiful and strong, like the land where she was born.

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For An Ohio Friend

Julie Buffaloe-Yoder

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I laugh at snobs

who call your land

flyover country.

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They don’t know

the goldenrods

of an Ohio river,

.

or you, walking

with a cane

in each hand

.

to show me

where to find

arrowheads

in the woods.

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Crippling arthritis

could not stop you

.

from grinning

and tying

a purple kerchief

under your chin

.

to go outside

and feed forty

feral cats

in a storm.

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All the armies

in the world

could not stop you

.

from climbing

up the ladder

to the loft

of your red

Amish barn

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to watch fat eggs

of baby buzzards

slowly tap open.

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Living by yourself

far away from it all,

with a shotgun

propped by your door,

.

you are plainspoken

and will call

a stink a politician.

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I shook my fist with you

when they built

that factory farm

near the black banks

of your clear river.

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Bless you, dear friend.

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You are the farmhouse

where your great-grandfather

was born after the roof

collapsed on his mother

in the middle of a blizzard.

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It’s where you still live

with a kerosene heater

among stacks and stacks

of Farm and Hearth magazines

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where the corn grows

taller than

a strong woman’s soul.

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You’re not flyover country.

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You’re a one-room schoolhouse

with wind whipping through it

beside a long, straight road.

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You’re huge Buckeye trees

and accordion music

on humid, summer nights.

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You’re volunteer

fire departments,

steam engine trains,

tractors, black swamp

mule boat canals.

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Polish sausage,

green jello dishes

and five dollar

Methodist Women

spaghetti dinners.

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To hell with anybody

who can’t see

.

the beauty

in all that.

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They wouldn’t know

sweetgum from rhubarb

if it shot them

in their plastic asses.

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Let them

keep on flying.

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Their contrails

will fade away

.

outlasted

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by rusty tin roofs,

cottonwoods

.

never-ending

Ohio horizons

and quiet

shades of you.

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Have A Beautiful Week

I will be offline for about a week.  I look forward to visiting with everyone when I return.

Here are a couple of my “back home” pictures.  It has been on my mind a lot lately.  Hopefully, the pictures will come through.  My old computer is complaining and groaning.

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This is an island that was about a ten minute boat ride from my home.  Click the picture to enlarge it.  That’s a stairway to heaven, son.

It’s called Shackleford.  “The Cape” is on the other side, but Shackleford is my favorite.

As kids, my friends and I hopped in a flat bottom skiff and spent days (and nights) in this area.  I’m talking unsupervised kids.  What freedom.

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Many of the kids who live in the region are excellent boat handlers at an early age.   A friend of mine (we call her the Clam Queen) was an amazing cap’n by the time she was twelve.

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Blackbeard the pirate spent a lot of time in these waters, hence my fascination with pirates.  Yeah, I know he was a murdering bastard.  But the stories are fun, especially the one where he swims around the boat without a head.  The supposed remains of his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, were found not far from here.

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There’s a reason they call it Carolina Blue.

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Wild Horses – There are several different herds here.  They are technically horses (not ponies).  They are descendants of mustangs from shipwrecks in the 1700′s.

The horses eat what they find on the island, and there are water holes where they can find brackish water to drink.  Often, they dig holes to find the water.

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Some places north of us have wild horses that are fenced in.  The ones here roam free on the island.  How cool is that?

The “bright sun” pictures look a bit faded, because I have no photography talent.  In reality, it’s so beautiful and green.

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My home was one of the villages on the treeline horizon in this picture.  Well, I guess it’s to the right of the picture…I’m terrible with directions.  No, my home wasn’t Beaufort.  Keep going.

There’s only one road that leads to “the end of the road” and a ferry.  Our landscape has more mud and clay than sand and many more woods than the island, but it has a similar feel.

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Sweet little fellow.  I think Amber took this one.  It’s one of my favorite pictures.  I love those eyelashes.  Don’t worry, Amber.  I’m keeping the “people” pictures offline :)

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Chilling Out At Night.

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The “sound side.”  The beach with waves is on the other side.  These islands are barrier islands.

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“The Cape” Keeper’s Quarters & Lighthouse – It’s the more popular side but still very pretty.  Currently, the light from the lighthouse flashes once every fifteen seconds, but that has changed over the years.   It feels like a “wink” to me and is so peaceful to watch at night.

The first lighthouse was built in 1812.  It was necessary to build one because of the many shipwrecks.  The land is low, and ships would run aground before the captains even saw land.  The currents can be very rough.

It’s also known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

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Here are a couple of pictures of where I live now–upstate Carolina, the beautiful land of red clay and rivers.  I was born about an hour from where I live and have some nice early childhood memories.

I tend to feel like at least part of me is in the mountains, piedmont and sandhills, too.  All of these places end up in my work.  Place is very important to me, and from what I’ve seen, many Carolina writers feel the same way.

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A bobcat’s rock.  The bobcat was too fast for me.

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There are many lakes and rivers here that go for miles.  My cheap camera doesn’t do it justice.  Amber gave me a good one, but I’m afraid I’ll drop it in the water.  My husband and I love to ride the rapids in the canoe.  There are no rapids pictures yet.  I’m too busy paddling and yahooing when we do that.

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Oh, yeah.  And here’s a new friend of mine.

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Again, it’s not a great picture.  A black racer snake.  He’s over five feet long and lives in my yard.  I get a kick out of him for several reasons.  I know…I’m a bit of a nut case.

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He’s not poisonous.  He has a mate, and I saw them making babies.

Their presence will help keep the poisonous snakes in the woods behind us and out of the yard (they tend to be territorial).  They also eat rats.  But I think they’ve taken up residence at my place, because we have a pond nearby and many frogs.

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Last week, I was sitting out back.  I felt something…you know what I mean?  Just that feeling of a presence.  I looked down, and there he was, sliding about an inch past my foot.  Half of him had already passed.

That’s a little creepy, even for a country girl.  Black racers can be aggressive when frightened (or when stepped on).  He won’t kill me, but having him bite my bare foot would suck.

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I think he was just checking me out.  I imagine he came up behind me to smell me.  Or maybe he figured since I had been checking him out, then turnaround is fair play.

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Here’s the tip of his tail as he heads back into his hole.  That’s not even half of him.  He’s not as long as I am tall (I’m sorta tall for a woman), but he’s not too far behind.

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Well, I could sit here all day and talk about wild horses, pirates and snakes (really, I could…that’s how dorky I am).  But I’d better get moving.

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I’ll try to stick around long enough to visit with everyone.  But if I can’t, I’ll see you in about a week or so.  Have a beautiful week!

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