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BULLFROG LORE

May 14, 2022

The full moon in May is called the full flower moon in the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It is the name used by several Native American tribes. May’s full moon was also called mother’s moon, milk moon, and corn planting moon. In May, the full moon marked a time of increasing fertility, with temperatures usually warm enough for safely bearing young, an end to late frosts, and plants in bloom.

The light of a silvery moon may provide the inspiration for a budding romance, but the full moon in May is the right time for bream fishing in our neck of the woods. This year the full moon will appear on May 16, prime time for fishing.

After nearly a two-year siege of health issues, I am unable to go fishing. But, I have an alternative. After a warm spring day followed by a cool evening, I enjoy sitting outside on our screened-in back porch. It is a marvelous time to sit in an old oak rocking chair and listen to the sounds of the night. The concert or the cacophony varies, but there is always something interesting to see and hear in the darkness.  

Chimney swifts put on a nocturnal aerial display, soaring and diving in the fading light, searching for insects. A lone male mockingbird sings a courting song from the top of a sweet gum tree. Tree frogs and crickets join in with their own melodies. Two feral cats confront each other with threats before darting across our lawn. A great horned owl gives a mournful hoot and waits for a response deeper in the woods. A big, fat possum ambles noisily out of the bushes and disappears quickly into the thicket beyond the chain-linked fence. Dogs bark in the background. Two bullfrogs chime in with bass notes from our pond. All of the activity is a prelude to an approaching thunderstorm. Our yard has been certified as a wildlife habitat. But, when the critters are stirred up, the place rivals the ancient Greek theatre with an ever-changing drama of comedy and tragedy.   

Before the COVID pandemic, I heard a program on a local radio station. The talk show featured experts from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Invited to call in questions, listeners kept the telephone lines humming throughout the hour.

Most callers were concerned about fishing regulations. They wanted answers about licensing requirements, size and number limits, and information about stocking ponds and streams.

Finally, near the end of the program, a fellow named Ralph was on the line.

“Ralph, where are you calling from?”

“From my pickup truck.”

“What’s your question?”

“What about frog gigging?”

The Game Warden answered, “The laws of South Carolina are completely silent when it comes to frog gigging.”

“You mean there ain’t no rules?”

“That’s right.”

“Hot diggity-dog!”

“You must like to eat frog legs.”

“Man, yeah! Fried frog legs are the best thing ever with a good vegetable like macaroni and cheese and a cold beer!”

Our garden waterfall spills into a pond lined with creek rocks. The water is recycled back to the top of the hill by a pump, creating a continuous flow.

On a visit to our garden, a friend sat by the pond watching the goldfish dart among the plants. “You need a couple of bullfrogs,” he observed.

I recalled the pleasant sound of bullfrogs from my boyhood fishing and camping adventures and agreed that a couple of bullfrogs would make a fine addition to our small pond. A few days later, a man from our church gave us six big croakers from the abundant population in his own pond. “I wanted to be sure you had at least one male and one female,” he chuckled.

After our gift of frogs arrived, I learned several interesting bits of information:  bullfrogs can live up to fifteen years, and female bullfrogs can actually lay as many as 20,000 eggs at one time. In a year or so more, I have no doubt that their croaks will be deafening.

I have enjoyed hearing their deep, resonant voices singing after dark along with the symphony of tree frogs, crickets, and a persistent whip-poor-will. The music conjures up thoughts of bullfrog tales.

In 1865, the budding journalist Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was living in a cabin near Angels Camp, California. He frequented the bar at a local hotel, listening to yarns spun by prospectors from the nearby hills. It was there that he heard a tall tale, which he later crafted into a short story. Twain wrote about a bullfrog named Dan’l Webster, who fails to hop even once during a jumping contest. His dismayed owner, despondent over losing a bet of forty dollars, later discovers an opponent had filled the giant frog with lead quail shot. Twain’s legendary amphibian helped make him famous. “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” has become one of the best-known bullfrog stories.

Perhaps the most famous tale about frogs was written by the Brothers Grimm. “The Frog Prince,” which has been told and retold, usually recounts how a princess finds a conversant frog. The frog asks that she kiss him in order to break an evil spell so he can change into the handsome prince he was prior to the curse. Though in the story’s original form, the princess does not actually kiss the frog, it is most frequently told so that her kiss transforms the frog into a prince.

This theme has many variations, even one for liberated women.

Once upon a time, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog in a pond. The frog explained, “I was once a handsome prince until an evil witch put a spell on me. One kiss from you, and I will turn back into a prince. Then we can marry and move into the castle with my parents. You can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, and bear my children. We’ll live happily ever after.”

That night, while the princess dined on frog legs, she laughed, “I don’t think so.”

A variation for senior adults places an old man on a log – wearing a tattered long-sleeve shirt, khaki pants, and a straw hat. Fishing with a cane pole from the riverbank was slow. As the late summer sun began to set, a bullfrog hopped up on the log next to the elderly gentleman and asked, “Are you married?”

“No, my wife died five years ago,” the man answered, surprised to be speaking with a frog.

After a pause, the frog offered, “I am really a beautiful princess. If you kiss me, I will become a young woman and marry you.

“Did you hear what I said?” the frog asked. “I am really a beautiful woman. If you kiss me, I will become a princess and marry you.”

The old gentleman considered the offer. Without a word, he gathered his fishing equipment, put the frog into his straw hat, and walked through the dark woods back to his pickup truck.

“Are you hard of hearing?” the frog demanded.

“No, not at all.”

Annoyed at the man, the frog repeated, “I really am a beautiful princess. Kiss me, and I will become a gorgeous woman. I will marry you.”

“I understand,” the man answered.

The frustrated frog shrieked again, “I really am a beautiful woman! I’m offering to become your wife. Why won’t you kiss me?”

The old man placed the straw hat containing the frog on the seat of his pickup truck and started the engine.  

The frog screamed above the noise, “Please kiss me! Please! Don’t you understand? I will be transformed into a lovely woman if you kiss me, and I will become your wife!”

The elderly gentleman paused a moment, then explained, “At my age, I can have a whole lot more fun with a talking frog than I can with a second wife.”

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Greater Spartanburg Ministries, 680 Asheville Highway, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29303, (864) 585-9371.

MOTHER’S DAY AND BASEBALL

May 7, 2022

A conversation with a seven-year-old can be confusing to an old man.  At our house, we were making Mother’s Day plans.  We talked about the menu and ways to honor the mothers among us.

I commented, “There will be a lot of pink bats on Mother’s Day.”

My granddaughter asked, “Why will there be pink bats on Mother’s Day?”

“It’s a way for baseball players to honor their mothers, their wives, their grandmothers, their sisters, and especially women who have a bad disease.”

“PK, where do the pink bats come from?”

I explained, “There is a company in Louisville, Kentucky, that dyes the bats pink for Mother’s Day.”

“Oh!  You mean like some people dye baby chickens different colors for Easter?”

I realized I was in deep trouble.

The seven-year-old continued.  “We’ve been studying bats in school.  They usually live in caves or hollow trees.  They hang upside down in the daytime.  At night they fly around and eat insects, especially mosquitoes.  I’ve seen pictures of them.  They are actually mammals and are usually brown or black.”

She paused and added.  “PK, you know it is not good to dye baby chickens different colors.  It’s not like dying eggs.  It can really hurt the chickens.  I bet dying the bats pink hurts them, too.  Why would baseball players be so mean?”

“Let’s start over,” I said.  And we did.

Pink Louisville Slugger baseball bats will once again be seen nationwide in Major League ballparks on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8.  They are the symbols of Major League Baseball’s “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” program.  Major League Baseball, The Susan B. Komen Foundation, and the Louisville Slugger Company have teamed up to fight breast cancer since 2006.

“It’s great to see all the pink on MLB fields on Mother’s Day,” said John Hillerich IV, the company’s CEO since 2001.

“The pink bats jump out at you.  They’ve become the symbol of baseball on Mother’s Day.  It’s heartwarming to watch MLB players embrace the opportunity to raise awareness and funds for MLB breast cancer charities.  Louisville Slugger is very proud to be part of that as we continue to leave our mark on this great game.”

Players who brandished the distinctive bats in their inaugural season, 2006, included Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, David Ortiz, Jim Edmonds, Richie Sexson, Mark Teixeira, Ken Griffey, Jr., Jeff Francoeur, Torii Hunter, Derek Jeter, Prince Fielder, Manny Ramírez, Adam Dunn, Bill Hall, Albert Pujols, Craig Biggio, Vernon Wells, and Lance Berkman.

Since 2006, Louisville Slugger has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pink bats for MLB players to swing on Mother’s Day at no cost to the teams or players.

“It’s a lot of product and a significant donation, but our efforts have made a difference,” Hillerich said.  “The MLB Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer program is making a significant impact in the fight against this awful disease that has impacted millions of people.”

Over the past twenty-two years, thousands of these Louisville Slugger bats have been sold to baseball fans worldwide, raising additional dollars for MLB breast cancer charities.

On Mother’s Day, 2007, Bill Hall of the Milwaukee Brewers slammed a walk-off homerun using a pink baseball bat.  His mother was seated in the stadium, cheering for him.  A year later, Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a pink-bat homer, and Tory Hunter hit two pink-bat home runs.  Major League Baseball allows the use of pink bats only on Mother’s Day.

This Sunday, for the seventeenth season in a row, more than three hundred major leaguers will step to the plate and take their swings with pink bats.  The Louisville Slugger Company has colored hundreds of their white ash lumber bats pink for Mother’s Day.

Major League Baseball has gone to bat against breast cancer.  The effort has raised millions of dollars for the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

More than 40,000 women die each year from the disease.  For some of the players, this hits close to home.  First baseman Mark Teixeira swung a pink bat in honor of his mother, a breast cancer survivor.

Baseball and Mother’s Day have a longstanding connection.

Born in Van Meter, Iowa, Bob Feller became a Major League pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.  The son of a hardworking farmer, he joked that shoveling manure and baling hay strengthened his arms and gave him the ability to throw as hard as he did.  Feller recorded three no-hit games in his twenty-year career and twelve one-hit games.  Nicknamed the Van Meter Heater, the big right-hander’s blazing fastball mystified opposing hitters and eventually carried him to baseball’s Hall of Fame. 

Bob Feller was scheduled to take the mound on Mother’s Day, 1939, as the Indians played the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City.  Feller gave his mother a train ticket to Chicago and a ticket for the game.  She had never before seen him pitch a Major League game.  She would finally get to see him pitch in the big leagues! 

Mrs. Feller was seated in a box seat just above the Indians’ dugout, enjoying the game, when things went terribly wrong.  During the fourth inning, Bob Feller hurled a fastball over the outside corner of the plate.  White Sox third baseman Marv Owen fouled a line drive into the stands.  The ball struck Mrs. Feller between the eyes, breaking her glasses and knocking her out cold.  Bob’s mother spent the next two weeks in a Chicago hospital with seven stitches on her face and two black eyes.  

Sometimes Mother’s Day can be hard on a mother.

I will never forget the year my mother received a surprise package for Mother’s Day.  My dad presented Mama with a shoebox-shaped present wrapped in pink paper with a big pink bow on top.  Mama put the gift aside until we had eaten the fried chicken, green beans, and rice and gravy she had prepared for her special Mother’s Day meal. 

After the meal, my sister encouraged my mother to open the gift.  Mama sipped her iced tea and handed the package to me.  Smiling, she asked me to open her present. 

I tore through the paper and the ribbon, opening the gift.  I could hardly believe my eyes when inside I found a brand-new pair of baseball shoes, exactly my size!  My mother neither wanted nor needed baseball shoes.  I was the one on a Little League team.  My tattered old Converse All-Stars were not suitable for me to become the All-Star third baseman that I hoped. 

That gift of baseball shoes for Mama has become a symbol of the kind of mother she was.  Not everybody is blessed with a good mother, but many of us have enjoyed the advantages that come from a mother whose love was unconditional and self-sacrificing.  It is the reason someone has said, “A mother’s love is a reflection of the love of God.”

There are bats living in the trees that border our property. They hang upside down out of view during the daytime hours. On warm spring nights, they fly out to circle our vapor lights, feasting on insects.  Thus far, I have never seen a pink one.

By the way, Bob Feller played in nine Major League All-Star games.  Even with new baseball shoes, I did not make the All-Star game as a Little Leaguer.  I doubt I could have done any better with a pink bat.

________________________________________________

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a storyteller, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies.  Thank you for all you have done.  I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind.  Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you.  One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need.  Please continue with your kindness and generosity.  This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to The Cancer Association of Spartanburg and Cherokee Counties, Inc., 295 East Main Street #100, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302, (864) 582-0771.

CINCO DE MAYO

April 30, 2022

Before the COVID pandemic, Clare and I enjoyed dining out occasionally. We made a practice of supporting locally owned businesses, restaurants included. I am convinced that when local business thrives, the community as a whole benefits.

As I write these words, we are ordering a supper of takeout food from 0ne of our favorite eateries. In midwinter when our children were small, we made a point of celebrating Lunar New Year with Asian food. Various family members enjoy Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Korean, and Chinese food. Other international favorites for our family members are French, German, Italian, Greek, Cuban, and Middle Eastern cuisine.  

We have a sign in our kitchen that reads, Eet smakelijk! It is the Dutch equivalent of Bon appétit! in French, Guten appetit! in German, Kalí óreksi! in Greek, B’tayavon! in Hebrew, Buon appetito! in Italian, Jal meokkesseumnida! in Korean, Bil hana wish shifa! in Arabic, ¡Buen provecho! in Spanish, Enjoy your meal! in proper English, or Dig in! when a plate of good old Southern cooking is put down in front of you.

The Dutch sign came from our son-in-law Jason’s grandmother, Nelvie. The expression reflects his Sikma heritage in Holland by way of Illinois. The kitchen is an appropriate place for the Dutch sign. Jay is one of the best and most adventurous cooks in our family.

As for takeout, a unanimous choice for our children and grandchildren is Mexican food. How many times have I ordered kids’ cheese quesadillas with rice?

Cinco de Mayo, like Chinese New Year, is a day to enjoy delicious food. On the fifth of May, many Mexican restaurants in the United States will be crowded with hungry customers.

A Broncos Mexican Restaurant is within easy distance of our home. The good folks who operate the business have become our friends over the years. I stopped by one morning before they opened for lunch. I specifically wanted to know about Cinco de Mayo. I spoke with Maria, the manager. When I asked, she smiled and explained.

The celebration of Cinco de Mayo is very different in the United States than it is in Mexico. For Americans, the fifth of May offers an excuse to drink tequila, eat Mexican food, and party. In Mexico, though, the holiday isn’t nearly as significant a cause for celebration. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo festivities can be found in many cities with large Mexican-American populations. Maria named Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Chicago as examples. “In those places, Cinco de Mayo is like a big carnival. In Mexico, it is much quieter.”

Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico. Mexicans don’t spend the fifth of May drinking and partying. Since it’s not actually a declared national holiday, stores, offices, and banks are all open, and most people go about their day as usual.

Many Americans have no clue what the day is about. One older man in my acquaintance thought Cinco de Mayo was a brand of spicy, expensive mayonnaise, something akin to Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard

Maria continued, “Americans do not understand that Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration of Mexican independence. It is not like our American Independence Day. Even if they don’t understand it, we are glad they want to celebrate. It really helps our business.”

Mexicans celebrate their independence from Spain on the sixteenth of September. This marks the day in 1810 when priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla declared war against the Spanish government with his call to arms, known as the “Grito de Dolores” or “cry of suffering.”

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a relatively small battle. It is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, which resulted in the unlikely victory of Mexico over France in 1862.

In 1861, the liberal Mexican Benito Juarez became president of Mexico, a country in financial ruin. He was forced to default on Mexico’s debts to European governments. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to the Mexican port city of Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to carve a dependent empire out of Mexican territory.

Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed the city of Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juarez and his government into retreat. The French objective was to establish a monarchy in Mexico led by Maximilian, the Archduke of Austria.

Certain that French victory would come swiftly in Mexico, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a town in central Mexico. Juarez rounded up a rag-tag force of loyal men from his new headquarters in the north and sent them to Puebla. Led by Texas-born General Zaragoza, the 2,000 Mexicans fortified the town and prepared for the French assault with a poorly trained and much smaller army.

On the fifth of May 1862, Lorencez drew his army, well-provisioned and supported by heavy artillery, before the city of Puebla and began their assault from the north. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening. When the French finally retreated, they lost, and the Mexicans won the day. More than 500 French soldiers were killed in the Battle of Puebla, while the Mexicans lost fewer than 100 men.

Victory at the Battle of Puebla represented a great moral victory for the Mexican government, symbolizing the country’s ability to defend its sovereignty against threat by a powerful foreign nation. Although it was small, it demonstrated Mexico’s fierce resistance toward the French, who eventually withdrew from Mexico. Cinco de Mayo celebrates this victory.

Clare and I were in Nashville, Tennessee, several years ago for a long weekend. Our daughter-in-law June and our daughter Betsy were both living in Music City at the time. One of our sons affectionately referred to June and Betsy as the twin divas of Nashville. I offered to take the group out for dinner on Saturday evening. June and Betsy said, “Cinco de Mayo!” It was a Mexican restaurant, and it was popular among their friends.

I made reservations, and I was glad I had done so when we arrived. The place was packed with people and filled with the pleasing aroma of good food. We were escorted to a large booth. The menu was extensive. Just as our food arrived, a mariachi band started playing, making their way from table to table with their songs. After we ordered, we found it difficult to talk above the noise.

When Clare and I recall that evening, Broncos comes to mind.

I asked Maria what business would be like on Cinco de Mayo. “It will be a party!” she said. “We will be crowded, and people will be happy.”

“Will there be music? Maybe a mariachi band?”

“No,” said Maria. Most of the mariachi bands in our area are in Greenville. We really don’t have enough room for a band, but we will undoubtedly have music.”

“What will your customers eat?” I asked.

“Everything on the menu will be served,” she said. “Many people will just eat tacos. But they will drink. Dos Equis draft beer and our margaritas will be in demand.”

Clare and I will stay at home on Thursday, but takeout is always a good possibility. She likes steak Mexicana with spinach. I enjoy pollo fundido.

Maybe you would enjoy celebrating Cinco de Mayo with some good Mexican food.

 And to drink? I usually drink water, but the choice is entirely yours.

Oh. By the way. ¡Buen provecho! 

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies.  Thank you for all you have done.  I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind.  Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you.  One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need.  Please continue with your kindness and generosity.  This week, my suggestion is a little different. Consider ordering a meal, either dining in or to take out,  from a locally owned eatery. You might also think about eating at a minority-owned restaurant. There are many options across the Upstate. If we have the opportunity, let’s support our local economy. Thank you.