“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

“Stand By Me” to the 40th Power

In the 40+ years since the release of Ben E. King’s break-out 1968 hit “Stand By Me,” it has become an anthem for the best kinds of friendship and love. The song has been used and used and used in all kinds of ways, and one of the best uses was Rob Reiner’s film of the same name, which was based on, of all things, a Stephen King novella, “The Body.” Here’s the trailer for it; watch as much or as little as you wish. It has gotten more than 800,000 hits.


But it took a particular video clip to add a memorable facet to the song. If you get e-mail, you likely got this. I got it from a high school buddy with whom I’m working long distance to make our 50th high school reunion a huge success. Yes, 50th high school reunion, a really over the top event. His idea is to use the song as a theme.

King described how “Stand By Me” came to be in “What’d I Say”: The Atlantic Story by Ahmet Ertegum, Welcome Rain Publishers, 2001:

At the same session where I recorded “Spanish Harlem,” we had about half an hour left and were sitting around with nothing to do. Jerry [Leiber] and Mike [Stoller] asked me if I had any songs, so I said I had one called ‘Stand By Me’. . . . They said, ‘Okay, let’s hear it.’


A Pandemic

Here’s “going viral” at its best. A YouTube Playing for Change version has gotten more hits than there are people in the whole state of Florida (according to 2009 estimates, 18.5 million) -- almost 20 million hits! Astonishing. And that’s on YouTube alone. It’s also on Vimeo. It was also sent around the globe by e-mail.

This wonderfully touching Playing for Change video of Grandpa Elliott Small singing a musical mashup performance of King’s “Stand by Me” was recorded from New Mexico to South Africa. You should watch the whole clip, for sometimes the good stuff just keeps getting better.


A recent Associated Press story updated Grandpa Elliot, which ran in many newspapers, including this one in the April 22 edition of the New York Times, which quoted Small telling how he felt to be a part of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival last weekend. The Festival runs through this weekend.

Hail, Rock 'n Roll.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010, 2:50 p.m. Part I

I’m sitting here, my heart racing, eating a chocolate bunny left over from Easter, and waiting for a call from the psych ward at DCH Northport. They agreed to alert me when my daughter, Mary, is being released. I tried to impress them with the need to drag their heels during the discharge process. When I get that call, I’ll then call the bondsman whom Mary conned into bonding her out of jail two weeks ago but who has now revoked the bond. The bondsman will be waiting outside the hospital for her and will re-arrest and transport her back to jail. This choreographed maneuver is all that will save Mary’s life. If she gets back on the streets, she will die.

How in God’s name did I get here?

It took about 25 years, but I am here. A friend recently asked, “why isn’t yours and Joe Lee’s life just normal, like everybody else’s?”

That’s easy. We have a terribly drug addicted daughter. What is hard is living it day to day.

This is how addiction ends without successful treatment – jail or dead. Mary has been in treatment programs of just about every kind there is, maybe 20 or 25 times. Mary’s is an unrelenting, unremitting addiction. I believe that she must also be brain damaged from a quarter of a century of putting toxic stuff into her body, from cigarettes and alcohol when she was 12 or so to crystal meth last Sunday and everything in between. Sunday she overdosed with multiple substances and was taken by ambulance to the DCH Northport ICU.

I believe drug addicts and alcoholics reach a tipping point, after which their fates will not be pretty. You’re not sure, even in hindsight, when that person has gone over. I don’t know where or when Mary’s tipping point occurred, but she went over.

This tipping point is far different from what laypeople call “hitting bottom.” “Hitting bottom” is for those who get themselves into treatment and/or 12-step programs and stick with it the rest of their lives.

For many more addicts and alcoholics than is comfortable to believe, the bottom is jail or death.

The Ides of March

Nearly two months ago, I got a call from a sleaze-bag loser from Mary’s past, asking me to bail out his step-daughter, whom I care nothing for, and telling me that Mary was also arrested in this same bust for the manufacturing of a controlled substance (methamphetamines), possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamines), and possession of a firearm.

“Are you insane as well as a sleaze-bag?” I shouted into the phone. “Don’t ever call this number again, Clifton, not for any reason.”

Despite everything, I was stunned, even though red flags had been popping up for a while. I had been allowing Mary to come visit Joanna Leigh, whom we have legal custody of. Normally I would feel a huge sense of relief that Mary was off the streets, whether it was in another treatment program or jail. This time, however, was different.

The dreaded day had arrived: the day this baby would have to face the grief that comes with losing her mother. It would begin that very moment I learned Mary had been arrested. I had decided some time ago, that if this happened, any contact with her mother would cease. Period. So, I dreaded it. Here it was.

Baby Grief

The child psychologist I spoke with warned me that a baby’s grief doesn’t look at all like what we recognize as grief.

As the days became weeks, Joanna Leigh more and more showed signs of confusion and grief. As we drove, she would see a familiar turn or street, she would say, “We going see Mommy?” “Mommy coming my house?” “Mommy coming get me.”

She would have imaginary telephone conversations. She would remember something Mommy gave her, like her Tinkerbelle blanket, and say, “Mommy gave me blankey.”

It is wrenching, a tough way to see a baby’s bond with its mother playing out. I would burst into tears.

Needless to say, THAT wasn’t going to work. I had to get my act together immediately, despite the depression that had settled on me like a fog. My visibility has been low, my confusion high, and my ability to get anywhere seriously compromised. All that mess comes with the territory.

Far Away

With advice from the child psychologist, we decided to say that “mommy has moved away.” That explanation was nearly the truth, as Mary would likely be sentenced – when the state gets around to setting a court date – to a long time in Tutwiler, Alabama’s abhorrent prison for women. She’s been there before.

She’s been to the Tuscaloosa County jail a lot. She was in the Escambia County (Florida) Jail when hurricane Ivan came through. The media doesn’t much cover what happens in jails and prisons when a natural disaster happens. But in acceptable abnormal times, Mary’s being incarcerated has been the only way I could feel any peace about where she was and what she was doing.

Funny things, priorities.

Special Note: Act IV

The primary motive for creating Spittin’ Grits over a year ago was to share my story as a parent of drug addicted child and subsequently a parenting grandparent of her daughter, our granddaughter Joanna Leigh. What I’ve experienced and learned over 25 years should not go unexamined and unreported to my grave – not if someone else can benefit in some way. Living with this sometimes shocking, sometimes incredible, always heartbreaking reality -- one that plays out in some kind of parallel universe -- and at the same time trying to have something of a life on this more familiar side has been difficult. Sometimes impossible.

I knew the story would be a personal one, often a hard one to write and a scary one to tell publicly. But I committed to trying. I also knew I couldn’t write only about this subject; it’s too hard. I’d end up jumping off the Hugh Thomas Bridge into the Black Warrior River, at least figuratively. So, I decided to widen the subject matter, as you can see from the categories in the far right column. That part has been fun and I intend to keep posting those kinds of odds and ends.

So far, I’ve dealt with only bits and pieces of the hard stuff – mainly because Act IV of this five-act drama kept unfolding; the curtain had not come down on this pivotal act, which, according to traditional analysis, contains the dénouement or primary turning point. The curtain came down last Wednesday.

Act V

In real life, Act V just keeps going until we each leave this world. The next generation is left to make sense of and complete the drama. So, I won’t be dealing with that final act. Wheeewww!

Spittin’ Grits will therefore deal with the six-week run-up to last Wednesday in a series of future posts that may not be consecutive. I suppose then I’ll have to go backwards, maybe even start at the beginning and see where it goes.


For right now, let’s take breather. I want to tell you about one of my most favorite Web sites and its news about recent videos and images released by NASA. It’s eye-popping good stuff.

Spaceweather at www.spaceweather.com out-weathers all the other weather sources and sites. Yes, it’s about activity in space – especially what’s going on with our Sun, and it never fails to intrigue.

Last Wednesday, in the midst of Act IV playing out, I got a ping from my 3D Sun app on my iPhone: NASA had released some mind-blowing video and images sent from from its brand new Solar Dynamics Observatory telescope.

I wanted to see this on my computer screen, so I went to spaceweather. Wow.


This first image, taken March 30, shows an ultraviolet image of the full sun; red colors are cooler, blues hotter. Whatever "cooler" and "hotter" mean, it's beyond my comprehension.

The video below (posted on YouTube; search for SDO/AIA) shows a solar flare in action. Considering the size of the sun, this bursting circle's size is beyond my comprehension, but it's beautiful.




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