Robert Lamb – A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 21 Jan 2018 19:46:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Robert Lamb – 32 32 88 31 A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics 110899633 Leroy of Barnwell and other Southern gothic characters Wed, 28 Jun 2017 11:58:53 +0000

A collage of famous historic and important people history

Hand over my heart, this is a true story.

The South is known for its unusual characters, right? They populate the stories of Southern writers like Erskine Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, etc. and et al.

But we Southerners know, don’t we, that you don’t have to crack one of these authors’ famous books to find such a fictional character’s prototype? Often they live right next door to us, or just down the street, or they show up at the other end of a random conversation. To wit:

In sending email, I often include a favorite saying or famous quotation in the message’s personal signature section, at the bottom of the page. Recipients of the emails often comment on the quotations, which I change from time to time, as the spirit moves me. Some samples:

“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” ~Ben Franklin

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” ~Walt Kelly’s Pogo

And a personal favorite: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” ~Henry Ford

Still with me?

Well, recently I sent an email requesting information from an out-of-town bank. A woman named Louise, the bank’s computer teller, called the next day to give me the information. “But first,” she said in a Southern drawl dripping molasses, “tell me how you know my husband. I asked if he knows you and he doesn’t.”

“Your husband?” I said, puzzled. She was in Mississippi; I was in South Carolina. Hadn’t been to Mississippi in years.

“Yes. You quoted him in your email,” Louise said. “I was amazed to see that.”

“Quoted? Your husband?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve got it right here on my screen: It says, ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ ~Virgil”

The light bulb came on. “Oh,” I said. “That’s a quote from Virgil, the ancient Roman writer.”

“Oh, then that’s not my Virgil,” she said. “I don’t think he’s ever been out of Mississippi.”

I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask Louise if she knew a young woman named Velma that I used to work with in Aiken, S.C. Velma glowed with vitality, but the glow did not extend far above her neck. (Nor did it need to; Velma was drop-dead gorgeous.)

Anyhow, one day when the office staff was having a working lunch, the boss’s way of keeping our noses closer to the grindstone of commerce, somebody brought up that old parlor game in which you are asked to name 12 people you’d invite to a dinner party if you could include anybody who had ever lived. Alive, of course.

Soon, names like Jesus, Hitler, Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Elvis, the virgin Mary, Robert E. Lee, Babe Ruth, and Thomas Jefferson rang around the table — until it was Velma’s turn.

So help me, with not a hint of self-consciousness, Velma, in all seriousness, named 12 of her relatives: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins!

I couldn’t believe my ears. Give somebody a chance, in theory, at least, to have a tête à tête with the likes of Jesus of Nazareth, and she chooses Leroy of Barnwell and Cindy Lou of Allendale!

We all stopped in mid-bite to stare in disbelief at Velma, but I doubt that she even noticed.

Anyhow, I’ve often wondered if Louise, the wife of Virgil of Mississippi, was one of Velma’s relatives.

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The tides giveth and the tides taketh away Fri, 16 Jun 2017 10:59:01 +0000

McKenzie Beach

If you’ve driven South Carolina’s Ocean Highway (Hwy. 17), perhaps in hurrying from Georgetown to Myrtle Beach, you’ve probably noticed the ruins of old buildings on the east side of the road catercorner to the Fresh Market in Pawleys Island.

The mouldering, vine-tangled ruins look like the setting for a Tennessee Williams play or a novel by William Faulkner. The whole property, in fact, has the look of a long-ago Southern yesteryear, or as black poet Langston Hughes might have put it: the look of a dream deferred.

McKenzie Beach“McKenzie Beach is a most unusual property,” said Gordon Berl, a real estate agent who lists part of the land for sale.

“Unusual” is right. In the 1930s and ’40s, it was the site of a popular beach resort owned and operated by blacks. Only one other beach for black vacationers was anywhere nearby, Atlantic Beach, some 30 miles up the road in North Myrtle. In the American South of that era, beach access for blacks was rare. Beach ownership was rarer still.

The few hard facts about McKenzie Beach say that it began in 1934 as a partnership between Frank McKenzie and Lilly Pyatt. In its heyday, it featured cabins, a causeway (one of only three) connecting the mainland to the island, a foot bridge to the beach (toll: 10 cents), a restaurant, and a pavilion, where legend has it that big-name recording artists like Little Richard performed.

If in America music is indeed the soundtrack of our lives, the tunes most likely wafting from the pavilion back then were the big-band sounds of, say, Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” (1941) or Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” (1937), in other words sophisticated jazz, not Little Richard’s “a-wop-mop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom.” That primal (and, admit it, toe-tapping) scream is from “Tutti Frutti,” his first hit, which didn’t come until 1955.

Alas, by that time, the McKenzie Beach Resort was, one might say, gone with the wind. Hurricane Hazel, a category 4 sea monster, blew the place to oblivion in October 1954. Today a fence bars entry to the property, a no-trespassing sign underscores the meaning of the fence, and big for-sale signs beckon to prospective buyers.

Want to make an offer? Bring lots of money.

“It’s expensive,” Berl said. “But I don’t know of another property around here that stretches from the Ocean Highway to the sea.”

Or one that attracts more attention from Grand Strand vacationers. After you finish reading this story, Google “McKenzie Beach, SC” on your computer; you’ll see how much interest the property has aroused in passersby over the years, some even suggesting that the state erect a historical marker there. But most are simply captivated by the storybook look of the place, often mistaking it for the site of an antebellum home gone to seed long ago.

McKenzie Beach“The whole property, including the marsh, is 23 acres,” said Berl, who represents three of the eight people who together own 40 percent of the site. “They’re asking $4.95 million.”

The asking price for the whole property? That’s hard to pin down because the land’s numerous owners include some who don’t want to sell, others who might sell but are not eager to, and still others whose basic position is: “Well, it depends.”

Further complicating matters, the site is two contiguous properties — with different sets of owners.

Berl’s clients include Dr. Gladys Manigault Watkins, a retired educator and writer who now lives in Washington, D.C. In the 1950s, her family had a summer residence at McKenzie Beach, and in 1963, her father, Walter Manigault, partnered with Modjeska Simkins, the civil rights activist from Columbia, SC, to buy the property to save it from bankruptcy.

Most residents of Georgetown County have a pretty good idea where McKenzie Beach was located. But for those unfamiliar with this neck of the woods, the beach was between the northern tip of Pawleys Island and the southern tip of Litchfield Beach — and might even have been the southern tip of Litchfield Beach before Hazel carved a new shoreline there.

No matter where exactly it was located — or where you’re from — you’re likely to agree that there’s something sad and maybe even haunting about an Old Beach Road in the Carolina Lowcountry that has become a geographical non sequitur: it no longer has a beach to run to.

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A few words about Erskine Caldwell, lyric poet of the poor Sun, 26 Mar 2017 14:55:57 +0000 recent column about Lewis Grizzard, the famous Southern author and humorist, I mentioned that he was from Moreland, Ga., a town in Coweta County about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta. Moreland is a community of fewer than 500 souls, but this tiny town has produced two of Georgia’s most famous sons. The other was Erskine Caldwell, born in 1903, who became one of the world’s best-selling authors.]]>

Funny how one thing can lead to another.

In a recent column about Lewis Grizzard, the famous Southern author and humorist, I mentioned that he was from Moreland, Ga., a town in Coweta County about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta.

Moreland is a community of fewer than 500 souls, but this tiny town has produced two of Georgia’s most famous sons. The other was Erskine Caldwell, born in 1903, who became one of the world’s best-selling authors.

Erskine Caldwell by Giorgio LottiLet me repeat that: One of the World’s Best-selling Authors.

Think Tobacco Road, a best-seller about the rural poor. Adapted later as a play, it ran on Broadway longer than any other play until “Oklahoma” surpassed it.

Think “God’s Little Acre,” a best-seller about the rural poor and cotton-mill workers, a novel so realistic (and, some say, salacious) that even the semi-literate people he wrote about read it, too.

Boy, did they! When I flew out to Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1973 to interview Caldwell for The New York Times, I saw in his foyer a huge tri-fold easel bearing the covers of the foreign editions of all his books. His books had been translated into every language on earth, even Croatian, and were hugely popular in countries like India and Indonesia.

He also had a great answer to one of my first questions: Why are your books so popular around the world?

“Because poverty is the same the world over,” he said.

Caldwell’s reputation today is on a downswing, a common phenomenon among the famous in any field. Among novelists, the downswing is often a precursor to a new upswing, but for Caldwell we’ll have to wait and see.

Bitterness about his portrayal of the South lingers in many a Southern precinct. Makes no difference that a literary giant like William Faulkner named Caldwell among America’s five best writers. A College of Cardinals could proclaim the same thing without appeasing the kind of readers who greeted his books the way they always greet the scalding truth: with bitterness and denial.

But Caldwell had observed first-hand what he wrote about. Though born in Moreland, he moved to Wrens, Ga., at age 15 and often accompanied his father on buggy rides around Jefferson County to minister to the flock. The flock were the kind of people who were already poor before the Great Depression descended upon them.

Tobacco Road and Little Acre by Erskine CaldwellThough famous and well off from his writing, Caldwell never had an easy time of it. Tobacco Road was banned and copies were seized by authorities. And with the publication of God’s Little Acre in 1933, The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice brought legal action against Caldwell and arrested him when he showed up for a book-signing.

He was exonerated at trial, but long after the 1930s his name was reviled in many parts of the South, including Wrens, his old hometown.

Nowadays, when I wouldn’t be shocked to hear the F word interpolated into the Lord’s Prayer, Caldwell’s novels seem like tame stuff. But as late as 1973, his books still were not on the shelves of the public library in Wrens. I checked.

“Heaven forbid!” said the lady who answered the phone.

I feel another long-distance phone call to Wrens coming on.

But no. It’s been only 44 years since I last called. That’s not even the half-life of a Southern grudge. They stay radioactive a long, long time.

Just ask William Tecumseh Sherman.



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Uh, could we talk about MY books for a while? Thu, 09 Mar 2017 14:34:47 +0000

My wife and I drove last week to Marietta, Ga., for a wedding party. Imagine my surprise when on a stretch of I-85 in Coweta County, about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta, I saw a sign that read: Lewis Grizzard Memorial Highway.

It warmed my heart, for I knew the late Lewis Grizzard when years ago I was a writer/editor for The Atlanta Constitution, where his incredible rise to fame began.

Lewis Grizzard by Jack Davis

Lewis Grizzard by Jack Davis

I say “incredible” because that’s a good word for it. When it comes to famous columnists, the list is short indeed. After you name Red Smith (of The New York Times) and Mike Royko (the Chicago newspapers, all of them), you’ve pretty much exhausted the list except for Grizzard.

How beloved was this son of tiny Moreland, Georgia (pop. 399 in the 2010 Census)? Listen up.

I write novels and sometimes make guest appearances to talk about my work and maybe sell a book or two. But I have rarely been to one where I wasn’t asked more about Grizzard than about me. Scout’s honor. An appearance at North Myrtle Beach Library was typical. I would’ve been better off reading aloud from Grizzard’s biography and books than my own. Could’ve left MY books in the car. Soon as I stepped to the podium, I was peppered with the kind of question I always hear when the audience learns that I once worked at The Atlanta Constitution:

“Did you know Lewis Grizzard?”

“Him and all his ex-wives,” I quipped. (One of Grizzard’s best lines was: “I don’t call my ex-wives by name anymore; I just address them as Plaintiff.”)

“Was he as funny in person as he is in his columns and books?”

“Uh, could we talk about something else – MY books, for instance?”

Kidding aside, his columns were hilarious, and even the titles of his books, which often were expansions of his standup comedy routines, are LOL:

  • “Elvis Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.”
  • “Southern By the Grace of God.” (My apologies to my Yankee neighbors in Litchfield Country Club.)
  • “I Haven’t Understood Anything Since 1962.”
  • And my favorite: “When My Love Returns From the Ladies Room, Will I Be Too Old To Care?”

For a columnist who wrote about little more than his love of the Georgia Bulldogs, a (presumably) fictional (and busty) gal named Kathy Sue Loudermilk, cold beer, chili dogs, and Braves baseball games, Grizzard attracted a huge following.

For an idea of how much his fans loved him, search Lewis Grizzard on Amazon and read a sampling of the reviews. “Laughed till I cried” appears often.

Better still, if he’s still doing it, catch Georgetown County native Bill Oberst Jr. onstage doing his portrayal of Grizzard. My wife and I did, at the Newberry Opera House some years back. Believe me, it was well worth the drive.

Lest I leave the wrong impression about Grizzard, he was not your typical corn-pone Southern humorist. He could be serious and even philosophical, as in a line I’ve long envied and wish I had written:

As both an old sportswriter and famous humorist, Grizzard drove many a mile on Georgia’s highways. He preferred the less-traveled routes to the super highways because, he wrote in one of his columns, “On a back Georgia road at night, you can ask yourself a serious question and get an honest answer.”

Dear hearts, in this life there aren’t many places where you can do that.





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Of formal dresses and BIG birthdays Wed, 15 Feb 2017 18:02:37 +0000 Pepperoni Proposal...]]>

Two thousand seventeen has not gotten off to a good start for Yours Truly.

First, there was the dress. No. make that The Dress. It was “The Dress” instead of simply “the dress” because it is for the upcoming wedding of our youngest son, Carson, a brilliant new lawyer (takes after his father) who now calls Des Moines, Iowa, home.

Carson will wed Claire Roth in Athens in April. You might recall my column on his unusual Pepperoni Proposal. If not, no matter; we are here today to talk dresses.

Brace yourself. Carson’s mother, Margaret, my wife, drove in mid-January, with me in tow, from Pawleys Island to Columbia, then to Athens, then to Atlanta, then back to Columbia, and then home — all in one weekend! And without finding a suitable dress!

But wait. There’s more. The next weekend, we drove — are you ready? — to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then to Columbia again in search of The Dress.

In the process, my wife tried on 124,698 dresses!

And that doesn’t count the 212 she bought online, eagerly awaited, tried on, and sent right back.

For me, this experience was very educational: I learned that my opinion on formal dresses means absolutely nothing — but I am now an expert on dress-shop decor and the behavior of women, all women, in such establishments. Long story short: women are not rational creatures. (No surprise there, eh, fellows?)

Then there was my wife’s birthday, which occurred this month. Because I dislike physical pain, I will not mention which of her birthdays it was. I will say only that HER BIRTHDAY IS A BIG. BIG DEAL!

I have learned that different families harbor different attitudes towards birthdays. In mine, thirteen and twenty-one were considered special. Sort of. Maybe. My wife says parole dates are more important in my family. And occur more often.

But among my in-laws, EVERY BIRTHDAY is special, and most special of all is my wife’s — and heaven help me if I forget it!

But how could I forget it? The hints begin six weeks ahead of The Day. And the REQUIRED preparations are themselves unforgettable.

First there’s the 21-gun salute.

Then comes the fireworks display.

Then there’s the flyover by the Blue Angels, complete with their famous synchronized wing-tip salute, while down below, in our front yard, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings a special version of “Happy Birthday To You — Yes, You!”

Do I exaggerate? OK — but only a little.

In any case, she has now picked a dress — and loves it!

So, as the Bard of Avon said, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

Best of all, the doctor tells me that my bumps and bruises will be healed by the April 8 Wedding Day.


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A bone scan was music to my ears Thu, 24 Nov 2016 13:15:23 +0000

Bone scan image by Myohan via Wikipedia.orgWho would have thought that a bone scan could be such a pleasant experience?

I didn’t. I figured I’d show up at Tidelands Health Waccamaw Hospital in Murrells Inlet, S.C., at the appointed hour, go downstairs to Nuclear Medicine, get an injection, lie on a table and listen to machinery whir around me, then get up and go home.

But two musicians whose day job is in nuclear medicine at the hospital made the scan a truly harmonious (no pun) event.

Imagine my surprise when over the soft whir of the scanner as the test began I heard music. Good music!

This was courtesy of Tom Goodman, 64 and a former Hoosier, and Darrin McCann, 45, who hails from all over. Those two can scan my old bones anytime they like (as long as they bring their music with them).

You know, yourself, that normally in situations like this the best a patient can expect is elevator music.

Read my lips: I hate elevator music!

It’s not even music. Reminds me of the old blues song by W.C. Handy, “Loveless Love.” You remember it: “From silkless silk to milkless milk, we are growing used to soul-less souls.” (Sing it again, Billie Holiday, wherever you are!)

Elevator music is music with no soul.

Can I get an amen on that?

If clarinetist Goodman and guitarist McCann had come up with the idea of accompanying bone scans with soul-less music, you wouldn’t be reading this. I wouldn’t have written it. But neither man just plays music; they both KNOW music.

In the short time I was there, we talked about music ranging from swing to rock to country and about musicians from B.B. King to Willie Nelson, from Norah Jones to the Eagles, and from Benny Goodman to Delbert McClinton. They knew them all.  Goodman even named his son Benny (after Guess Who), and the son plays clarinet, too – “better than I do,” said Dad, who now plays mostly in church.

“Both of us really love music,” said McCann, who used to play in bands, but now plays mostly for himself.

And both men spoke and smiled as one when I asked their favorite musical artists.

Without hesitation, they said, “The Beatles.”

When they said that, one of my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll songs raced through my mind: “Oh, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean, and the way she looked was way beyond compare…” That song, from the Beatles’ debut album “Please Please Me,” tore the doors off popular music when it roared onto the scene in 1963 to introduce The Fab Four.

Of course, Goodman and McCann don’t play get-up-and-dance music for patients. Patients are required to lie still during the scan. But the soft and soothing music the technicians do play is just as good in its own right, and the music the patients seem to like best is that of Bob DeAngelis, a Canadian jazz musician.

How did a Canadian jazz musician get into the act?

“I was shopping with my wife in Bed, Bath & Beyond when I heard good music being played in the store,” Goodman said. He asked a clerk about it, she showed him the album, and he bought it.

On the album, titled “In A Sentimental Mood,” were such old favorites as “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “Tenderly,” “Blue Velvet,” “Que Sera Sera,” all featuring the very listenable clarinet of DeAngelis.

Knowing he had stumbled onto a good thing, Goodman soon bought more albums.

“We now have a little bit of everything,” McCann said.

And so many patients have asked about the music that Goodman and McCann are now ready with a printout to give to the curious so they can find the music themselves on Amazon and websites.

P.S. My scan was clear.

So is my conscience, in case you wondered.



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Bob Dylan, take note: The times they have done changed Thu, 01 Sep 2016 09:29:12 +0000

Vintage wedding cake by pompixs and licensed at

Whatever happened to simple weddings?

My wife Margaret and I got married 34 years ago in her parents’ living room, in Columbia, with maybe 10 people, tops, in attendance.

This past Thursday, Aug. 25, we drove to Athens, Ga., to make arrangements relating to our youngest son’s upcoming wedding featuring (at last count) 300 guests!

Our mission was to arrange for the wedding rehearsal dinner. You may recall the now-famous Pizza Proposal with a Diamond Topping, the story of which was posted in The Dew on Aug. 19. The wedding will take place on April 8 in Athens, where the bride’s parents live.

Now I’m finding out quickly how far behind the times I am. Who knew that arrangements for a little ol’ marriage could lead to exhaustion and penury?

Listen: the Normandy Invasion did not require the planning and logistics that a big wedding calls for nowadays.

Three-hundred wedding guests!

Why, on our way to Athens we passed through towns that did not have that many people living in the whole place! One such town was Paxville, a community in Clarendon County with a population of only 185 in the latest census.

So if all the guests for this wedding lived in Paxville, the town would be vacant and abandoned on April 8 — and we’d still need to borrow 115 more souls from nearby Pinewood (pop. 459) to make our quota of 300!

Lordy mercy, my dear old grandmother would say! (Note that I did not refer to her as “sainted,” but that’s a story for another time).

Arranging the rehearsal dinner, for which Margaret and I are responsible, seems easy by comparison to the responsibilities of the bride’s parents. Nevertheless, I returned home exhausted. It is not easy (nor inexpensive) to arrange dinner and drinks for 60 people and to find the ideal location for these festivities.

Is there adequate parking? How about access for the handicapped? How will seating be arranged? Who’s on third – no, wait; that’s another routine.

Long story longer, we traipsed all over town (and Athens is NOT Paxville) looking first at this place, then at that place, only to find that the very first place we had seen (Lyndon House Arts Center) was easily the best, after all.

We booked it.

So now could we go to lunch and call it a day?

Of course not, stupid! Now we had to find a caterer.


“Don’t you know that an army moves on its stomach?”

“Well, yes, but I’m only just now realizing that I’m picking up the check for all those stomachs.”

More to the point, the currently betrothed son is only one of my four sons – and will be the first to wed. This one is being held in an arts center. Any others will be held in the poorhouse.

And I know what you’re thinking: I should have thought of this a long, long time ago – 34 years ago at least.

And all I can say is, True that!

Frankly, I like the “rehearsal dinner” my old friend Bobby Woodward says he and his wife Mary had years and years ago in Augusta, Ga.

Laughing, he said, “I sprung for a Dr. Pepper.”


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The Pizza Proposal with a diamond topping Fri, 19 Aug 2016 11:55:51 +0000

I know you’ve heard that love will find a way.

Me, too, but who knew that a pepperoni pizza could be part of Cupid’s plan?

You listening?

Carson Lamb and Claire RothHe was a boy, 26, from Columbia, South Carolina.

She was a girl, 23, from Albany, Georgia.

He graduated (English) from the University of South Carolina (Go, Gamecocks!).

She graduated (social work) from the University of Alabama (Roll, Tide!).

This Southern boy and this Southern girl first met in Charleston, South Carolina, that Holy City of the American South.

This Southern twosome fell in love in Charleston, the perfect setting for Cupid’s marksmanship. Ask anybody who’s been there.

Then, last week, this Southern boy and girl got engaged in Des Moines, Iowa.

Wait! Iowa?


Iowa as in the Midwest – roughly a thousand miles from Charleston?


But how…?

Patience, children.

His brother Tyler was a student at the Charleston School of Law. So was her sister, Anna.

One weekend, Claire Roth drove from Albany to Charleston to visit Anna. Carson Lamb drove down from Columbia to visit Tyler.


After all, they quickly found that they had a lot in common – not least a fondness for pizza.

Fast forward nearly four years. Carson has graduated from the Georgia State School of Law and taken a job with the Baudino Law Group in – you guessed it – Des Moines, Iowa. Claire now has a master’s degree in social work and is a school-based therapist in Des Moines with a private practice. The two Southerners moved to Des Moines last January.

Earlier this month, on a business trip to Atlanta, Carson bought an engagement ring on the quiet and had it delivered to his office back home.

Then he went to work on a delivery system of his own. These were the elements: a stroll downtown after supper to a local landmark, the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, and a “chance encounter” with a friend of Carson who moonlights at Domino’s.

Marry Me PizzaThe friend approached them, holding out a box of pizza to Claire, and saying that he had a “failed delivery” and that she and Carson could have the pizza free if they wanted it.

Do you smell a thickening plot?

When Claire looked back, Carson had dropped to one knee and was extending the ring for her to see, and the friend had opened the box to reveal a pizza with the words “Marry Me” spelled out in pepperoni — with a green pepper question mark.

The girl said yes!

They all then adjourned to a nearby wine bar where Carson had arranged a party with their local friends. Next they enjoyed champagne with Claire’s parents, Ira and Julie Roth, of Athens, Ga., who had flown into town for a weekend at the celebrated Iowa State Fair – and stumbled into their daughter’s surprise pizza proposal and engagement.

“None of my friends were surprised that Carson used pizza to propose,” Claire said. “I’ve always loved pizza. It’s probably disgusting how much I love it.”





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How to speak Southern Thu, 04 Aug 2016 15:04:47 +0000

Okay, get the handcuffs ready. I’m about to confess:

By day, I am Robert Lamb, famous author of great novels. No, wait! Make that “relatively unknown author whose books were best-sellers in certain quarters,” namely my mother’s bridge club.

But by night I am, by design, mind you, the equally unknown Y'all Ain't From Around Here, Are Ya?author whose nom de plume is (drum roll, please) Cooper Riverbridge. (Note to all Ivy League grads out there: “nom de plume” means pen name.)

In 2009, disguised as Cooper Riverbridge, I wrote and published “Y’all Ain’t From Around Here, Are Ya?” The subtitle was “How To Talk Like a South Carolinian,” and the book was illustrated by friend Rob Barge, (who then lived in Columbia but who since has deemed it wise to retreat to Georgia). A statute of limitations thing, if I recall. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Rob.)

What brought on this confession? Well, I remembered the other day that the first thing Dick, my new neighbor, said to me when we moved to Litchfield Country Club and he heard my Southern drawl was, “I’m from New York. You won’t hate me, will you?”

Little did he know that he was addressing the very man, perhaps the only man in these parts, who could help preserve his Yankee hide. At the time, I could not blow my cover, for the book was setting new records in low sales. But that was then and this is now. Here’s the book’s brief introduction:

“Folks in South Carolina are known for many things – firing on Fort Sumter to start the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’ a curious obsession with beach music, a strong affinity for mustard-based barbeque, a fanatical devotion to college football, and their peculiar attraction to a dish called shrimp & grits. But above all, South Carolinians are known for one major attribute: they talk funny.”

My little book was aimed at helping people like Dick understand the language in this neck of the woods and to avoid that damning question posed to all – and they are many – who came here from north of the Mason-Dixon Line: “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?”

Herewith a sampling:

  • ACKRUT – A not quite accurate pronunciation.
  • BAD to – Strongly inclined or strongly prone to, as in “He was bad to steal chickens.”
  • CARO-LEEN-IANS – Natives of the state as pronounced by a former governor who couldn’t pronounce the name of the natives of his own state. (We won’t reveal his name, but his initials were Carroll Campbell.)
  • CHEER – Something you sit in if you are a South Carolinian. Everybody else prefers a chair.
  • DILL – To South Carolinians this is an agreement; to everybody else it’s a pickle.
  • FEM – another word for movie.
  • FIXIN’ to – Preparing; getting ready, as in “I’m fixin’ to go to the store,” which is often pronounced “stow.”
  • LIBERRY – A storehouse for books as pronounced by a former University of South Carolina president.
  • RUBBA – A word that around here has lost its ‘lasticity.’

The list in the book runs through the alphabet, but you get the idea.

For clarification to newcomers, I might add that Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge replaced the old Cooper River Bridge, from which I purloined the pen name.

And before you ask, I was born in Aiken, South Carolina, and grew up in Augusta, Georgia.


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One of Us Is Sleeping Tue, 02 Aug 2016 18:12:57 +0000 One of Us Is Sleeping is that the one asleep is probably the reader. Even a stream of consciousness novel, which is what this is supposed to be, is supposed to go somewhere – and leave the reader with the impression that he has been there and that the journey, however long, was worthwhile.]]>

One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine KlougartThe biggest problem with Josefine Klougart’s One of Us Is Sleeping is that the one asleep is probably the reader.

Even a stream of consciousness novel, which is what this is supposed to be, is supposed to go somewhere – and leave the reader with the impression that he has been there and that the journey, however long, was worthwhile.

This novel opens with a section whose title seems an inadvertent forewarning: The Light Comes Creeping. Alas, so does the storyline, which seems to be a woman’s novel-length reflection during a snowbound Danish winter on a broken romance.

On and on it lurches, in fragmented thoughts and images, till you want to say, “All right, already, I get the picture; the lout broke your heart. Get over it and get on with how it all happened.”

So much for inspiring reader empathy!

Okay, maybe even at this late date there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, and for all we know it is the SOB who left her. But this gal is so self-absorbed it’s a wonder she saw him leave. No problem; he won’t really be missed. The protagonist resolves on page 210 “To enter inside the grief and remain there.” She even adds: “I will insist on being a distressed person within the world.”

Fine. But she’ll have to live with the knowledge that self-absorption just ain’t all that interesting. In fact, maybe that’s why you-know-who is now her used-to-be.

One suspects that the author forgot that even in a stream of consciousness novel, the story’s the thing. An interior monologue is a wonderful literary device depicting the thoughts and feelings that pass through the mind, but, like every other element of fiction writing, it is supposed to advance a story, not get stuck in egocentric maundering—and certainly not stray into a bog of self-pity.

In Ulysses, perhaps the best known of this kind of novel, author James Joyce takes the reader on a virtual walking tour of the Dublin, Ireland, of 1904. The story is alive with the sights and sounds of the world in which the protagonist, a middle-aged Jew, lives as while out for a walk he reflects on his youth. The reader comes away feeling that he has been on a fascinating municipal voyage with a very entertaining guide.

Another well-known example of the stream of consciousness novel is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, whose titular protagonist goes out one day in London to buy flowers for a party she is hosting.

As she goes, her thoughts introduce the reader to a complex and interesting character, one whose thoughts are not exclusively about herself, but about the society in which she lives and about the people she meets and those she knows. This weaves together for the reader the protagonist’s inner and outer reality, shedding light on the story, not just on the protagonist’s state of mind.

Both Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway are on Time’s list of the best 100 books published since 1923. They should be required reading for the author of One of Us Is Sleeping.

(Publisher: Open Letter; pages 228; pub. date: 7/12/2016; translation by Martin Aitken; ISBN 978-1940953373)

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Matt Hamilton: Been there, done that Fri, 08 Jul 2016 21:12:14 +0000

Photo of Matthew A. Hamilton superimposed over the cover photo of his book, "The Land of the Four Rivers"

Matt Hamilton has packed more life into his 41 years than most of us could in twice that.

Of the many roads he has traveled – soldier, congressional aide, Benedictine monk, Peace Corps – one he likes best is the road that brought him to North Litchfield, S.C., where he vacationed last week and sat down in a Litchfield coffee shop long enough to be interviewed.

“My whole family has vacationed here for years,” he said. “We love it. The younger ones can go north to Myrtle, and the rest of us have Litchfield, Pawleys and Georgetown.”

A Kentuckian by birth, Hamilton grew up in Ohio and majored in history at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. He next earned a master of fine arts degree at Fairfield University in Connecticut, and he now lives near Richmond, Virginia, and works at Benedictine College Prep, a Richmond high school.

"The Land of the Four Rivers" by Matthew A. Hamilton To the school’s students, he is Matt Hamilton, school librarian. But to the wider world, he is Matthew A. Hamilton, prize-winning poet and a rising literary light. His first book of poetry, “The Land of the Four Rivers,” published in 2012, was hailed by critics and readers alike, and in 2013 walked away with the Peace Corps Writers Best Poetry Book Award, a coveted prize.

One critic wrote: “Hamilton’s poems do what a surprising number of modern poems are too cowardly to do: They risk being understood. If his poems were photographs, we would not only see them, we would feel that we could step right into them.”

The poems were about Hamilton’s experiences from 2006 to 2008 in his first Peace Corps assignment in Armenia, which is located between the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and has been called “the crossroads of antiquity.” Some believe the biblical Garden of Eden was located there and legend has it that Noah’s ark came to rest on an Armenian mountain top.

Armenia is a very poor country, but its ancient culture resonated with Hamilton, who only a short while before had been simply Brother Boniface, a Catholic monk at Belmont Abbey, in North Carolina. “We spoke a different language, but we spoke to the same God,” he said.

Hamilton left the monastic life in 2004 after “four years of loneliness,” he said, and an increasing call to plot his course “in a wider world.”

But he left with his faith intact and perhaps a divine going-away present: the knowledge that his contemplative monastic days had made him a poet.

“That’s when I began to write poetry,” he said.

Lips Open and Divine by Matthew A. HamiltonAnd he’s been writing it ever since.

Besides the prize-winning book, he has published widely in literary magazines, been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, and earlier this year published his second book of poems, “Lips Open and Divine,” based on his experiences in The Philippines, his second Peace Corps assignment, 2008-10.

Hamilton maintains a blog at and is Facebook.

His first book is available from Cervena Barba Press. His second, by Wild Goose Publishing, is also available at Amazon.

His next goal is to land a teaching position on a college or university faculty. “That’s my dream,” he said.

You listening, Academe?

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Two non-southern states of mind Fri, 24 Jun 2016 11:17:14 +0000

I’m a South Carolina native who grew up in Georgia, and I have lived in one of these two states most of my life except for two years in the Navy (during which I never saw a ship — a story for another time) and a misguided six months in California, land of fruits and nuts.

How bad was the golden state? Well, when I got back home I kissed the ground and vowed never again to leave the South except for visits, and only then with a copy of my birth certificate in hand to prove where I was from so I could be sure to get back in.

But I might have been a bit hasty in making that pledge. Two reasons: Iowa and Maine.

I had heard for years that Iowa ranked high in quality of life (among other things, like public education). But possessing that foreknowledge had not prepared me for Des Moines, which my wife Margaret and I visited recently.

Ready? Des Moines offers clean, safe streets; free-flowing traffic; good food at reasonable prices; low unemployment; affordable housing; higher wages; pleasant, friendly people; and (at least when we were there) very nice weather. (Full disclosure: We had been advised by friends there not to come till after March so as to avoid the harsh winter. Turned out they had had a mild winter, but forewarned is forearmed: we went in May.)

My chief impression was that Des Moines was designed for its inhabitants, not for its automobiles – a sharp contrast to, say, Atlanta, where we used to live when we worked for The Atlanta Constitution. On a visit to The Big A last November, we found a city choking on its traffic. We missed two engagements simply because we could not get there at the appointed hour. We were stalled in traffic on the freeway. Stalled as in “not moving.”

Maine St, Kennebunkport, Maine by Kate BarnumI used to miss Atlanta. Not any more.

Then, this month, we visited Maine. Oh, boy!

We’d been to Maine several times, including Kennebunkport, where we stayed this time, and had developed a special fondness for the Granite State. But this time, it was, in the words of that great philosopher Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again.” In short, it was wonderful! Again!

Think delicious weather under clear, blue skies. Think great seafood. Think flowers and American flags everywhere. Think American Yankee attitudes and spirit.

Not least, think Down East common sense and mischievous humor.

Example: Sign in a Kennebunk barbershop where I got a haircut: “Be Nice or Leave.”

Sign in a downtown Kennebunkport parking lot: “If you park here, we will crush your car while you shop and/or dine.”

Sign at the Cape Porpoise post office, which is located in a general store: “U.S. postage and small talk.”

Gotta love a place like that. Moreover, the sign was an example of truth in advertising. At the post office’s one window, I saw and overheard a patron who was indeed engaged in small talk with the clerk.

But we’re home again, and of course there’s no place like it.

You can quote me on that, but remember I was not under oath.

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Nocturnal musings Wed, 11 May 2016 10:09:56 +0000

Schoolhouse Rock’s “The Great American Melting Pot”Sometimes, in the still of the night, I think I hear the American culture coming apart at the seams. Sometimes it’s the popping of a stitch. Other times it’s an alarming rip. But the culture is definitely showing signs of strain.

I don’t think this is normal wear and tear. I think the culprit is zeal connected to bad ideology, zeal fueled by ignorance often masquerading as enlightenment.

A moment’s thought, for instance, reveals that Political Correctness undermines the most precious provision of the Bill of Rights: free speech.

Which is more important, freedom of expression or somebody’s feelings?

Only the ignorant would say feelings, but ignorant doesn’t always mean uneducated. Last November a University of Missouri journalism professor attacked a student journalist who was covering a campus protest. The faculty member championed the protesters.

Had she never heard of freedom of the press? It’s in the Bill of Rights and her field was journalism. Where was her judgment?

As Mose Allison, the great bluesman, might put it, “Her mind was on vacation and her mouth was working overtime.” (Note the verb tense; she was fired. Good riddance.)

But how many young, impressionable minds did this teacher contaminate with her wrong-headed idealism, which sadly seems more and more welcome in Academia.

A few more cultural stitches popped in recent reports that historical revisionism is in the saddle again, focusing chiefly (for now) on Civil War memorabilia – flags, statues, building and bridge names. The datelines were as varied as Columbia, New Orleans, Charleston, Cape Town, and Oxford, England, but it won’t stop there. Among the unthinking, few things spread as fast as a bad idea.

Those pushing the movement may be too young to recall that the Soviet Union was big on historical revisionism, too, but now both the Soviet Union and its revisions are gone. But why can’t any revisionist see that it is naïve to look at history only through the lens of modern sensibilities? In matters of judgment, context is essential.

Also essential is common sense, a quality that turns out to be not so common, after all.

Not least among the enemies of the republic are those who promote multicultural diversity as if it were a noble rebuke to bigotry in America. Actually, it marshals public sentiment toward separatism, which is the exact opposite of what the UNITED States stands for. Remember? “United we stand; divided we fall.”

The zeal for multiculturalism also ignores that ethnic communities have been a part of the American landscape almost from the beginning – Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, Tarpon Springs, Eatonville, La Storia. From sea to shining sea, the list goes on and on.

But here’s the historical difference, and it’s a huge one: Though understandably interested in preserving their ethnic heritage, the immigrants in these communities came to the USA to assimilate, NOT to remain separate and apart.

The great strength of America is its openness to the melting-pot concept of society. To push the country in the opposite direction is to encourage the balkanization of the land, or, in clearer terms, to try to disunite the United States.

If any or all of this describes the kind of American you are, I leave you with these parting words: The world is full of other countries and Delta is ready when you are.

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Augusta Fri, 08 Apr 2016 12:09:50 +0000

Though I am a native of South Carolina (Aiken), I grew up in Augusta, Ga., and I think of it as my hometown. I haven’t lived there in years, and even if I wanted to move back there, I know that you can’t go home again.

That is particularly true in my case, but, no, it’s not because the Statute of Limitations has yet to run out on the antics of my misspent youth. In fact, I was nearly an altar boy. (May it please the court: let the record show that I said “nearly.”)

No, I can’t go back to the old home-place because the old home-place isn’t there anymore. It was bulldozed years ago. Urban renewal was the villain.

Even more poignant (to me), the whole neighborhood, 15 inner-city square blocks known as Frog Hollow), was razed to make way for an ever-enlarging University of Georgia med school and University Hospital. Gone! The whole neighborhood!

A cousin of mine, an electrician, from that same neighborhood, different street, was wiring a circuit board on hospital grounds recently when it dawned on him that he was standing where his old bedroom used to be. He said the realization buckled his knees.

So, long story longer, I can’t go home again, no matter what.

But I do miss the old hometown from time to time, and never so keenly as at this time of year each year: Masters Week.

Rory McIlroy walks up to No. 15 green during Thursday's first round of the 2016 Masters. CHRIS TROTMAN/AUGUSTA NATIONAL

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and his caddie walk up No. 15 during Round 1 at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday April 7, 2016.

If you’ve never been to the Masters Tournament, put it high on your bucket list. But don’t just watch it on TV; go! I know of no other spectacle in all of sports that is its equal. Not baseball’s World Series. Not college basketball’s Final Four. Not professional football’s Super Bowl. Not – but you get the picture. And I’m not even an avid golfer!

The course, in spring’s full bloom, is beautiful beyond words; the drama is riveting as the suspense usually grows with each round; and if people-watching has a better venue anywhere, I’ve yet to see it.

I saw my first Masters Tournament as a lowly gallery guard while a student in high school – and when I didn’t know one end of a golf club from the other. No matter. Working, if you can call it that, on the second hole, I was free for the rest of the day after the last paring played through, and I took full advantage of the opportunity.

The great names in golf in that era included Ben Hogan and Sammy Snead, and hot on their heels was Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. In my free time, I could follow anyone I chose, and see up close some of the greatest golf ever played. I’ve been a fan ever since.

My own golf game? Sad story, that. In total frustration, I quit the game one day years ago on the third hole of a south Georgia country club course, having found golf to be radically different from other sports.

In other sports, I had displayed a bit of athleticism and found that with practice I could get better.

For reasons beyond my ken, this was not true of golf. At least, not for me. And I have heard many another person make the same lament.

But I still love the game, especially the Masters Tournament, and this is the week!


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Forewarned is forearmed, sort of Sat, 27 Feb 2016 14:40:47 +0000

*Common side affects from actual warnings: headache; back, muscle, bone or joint pain; severe or continuing heartburn; diarrhea or constipation; flatulence; nausea; abdominal pain and bloating; painful swallowing; chest pain; pain in the arms or legs; blurred vision and an erection lasting more than 4 hours; swelling or tenderness of the breast; a specific birth defect; high blood pressure; an unsafe drop in blood pressure; shortness of breath; a slow heartbeat; weight gain; fatigue; hypotension; dizziness; faintness; decreased appetite; sleepiness; sexual side effects; nervousness; tremor; yawning; sweating; weakness; insomnia; fewer tears or have dry eyes; unexplained weakness; rare cases of tuberculosis; serious infections; a higher rate of lymphoma; vaginal bleeding; painful menstruation; leg cramps; breast pain; vaginitis and itching; difficulty breathing; closing of the throat; swelling of the lips, tongue or face; a personality disorder; numbness; a bad rash or hives; problems urinating; long-term loss of potency; stroke; interaction with other medicines or certain foods; seizures; blood clots; a speech disorder; increased salivation; amnesia; paresthesia; intestinal bleeding; colitis; confusion; decreased levels of sodium in the blood; fluid in the lungs; hair loss; hallucinations; increased levels of potassium in the blood; low blood cell counts; palpitations; pancreatitis; ringing in the ears; tingling sensation; unusual headache with stiff neck (aseptic meningitis); vertigo; worsening of epilepsy; serious kidney problems; acute kidney failure and worsening of chronic kidney failure; severe liver problems including hepatitis, jaundice and liver failure; coughing up blood; cough that doesn't go away; blue-grey color or darkening around mouth or nails; slow or difficult speech; loss of ability to concentrate; hallucinating; extreme tiredness; seizures; numbness, heaviness, or tingling in arms or legs; floppiness or loss of muscle tone; lack of energy; excessive sweating; fever, sore throat and chills; bloody (or black) vomit or stools; worsening depression; sudden or severe changes in mood or behavior including feeling anxious, agitated, panicky, irritable, hostile, aggressive, impulsive, severely restless, hyperactive, overly excited, or not being able to sleep; dependency; unpleasant taste; thoughts of suicide and death. Created for
Have you noticed the long string of warnings in TV commercials for prescription drugs?

How could you miss it? It’s downright scary. Takes up half of the evening news. The drug companies know their audience, don’t they? Only geezers watch TV news. News has not yet become relevant to the young. (But just wait, young people!)

I’m afraid to go see a doctor anymore. I might wind up with one of those prescriptions. Their side effects sound riskier than the ailment.

I can see it now: Doctor says to me, “Bob, you’re got a touch of maxorenia. Here’s a prescription for it.”

Well, I’ve seen the ad for that drug many times. After stating what it’s for, the announcer reads a list of “possible side effects.” The list is longer than the tail on Halley’s Comet.

It is longer than a Super Bowl halftime show featuring Beyonce doing an in-your-face dance routine in minimal clothing.

It is longer than a speech by Vice President Joe Biden, especially if he begins with, “I’ll just say a few words….”

It is longer than the time I sat at a rail crossing in Columbia’s Five Points last week while waiting for a freight train to pass. Started on Tuesday, finished late Thursday. (34,874 cars, at least, passing at a snail’s pace — and occasionally backing up!)

Oh, and the list itself? It goes something like this: “Has been known to make your dog leave home (and not come back); has caused patients who drive Highway 17 to forego tailgating and speeding to beat the next light; can create an irresistible urge to vote Republican; can cause halitosis strong enough to peel paint; effected a complete cure in one out of 10 patients (the other nine have been moved to Intensive Care).

On and on the warnings go: “This medicine Is expected to double in price next week, same as last week, so stock up; was a prime suspect in pro football’s Deflate Gate last year (jury’s still out); causes terminal brown spot if spilled on centipede lawns; has been known to make old boy- and girlfriends show up on your doorstep after you’re married. (If you’re a male, be sure to ask for the blue pill; females should opt for the pink – unless, of course, well, you know: different strokes for different folks. Just remember: It’s a brave new world.)

The reason for all these warnings and disclaimers is obvious, isn’t it? The drug companies have been sued (successfully) more times than Carter has little liver pills. So now their lawyers come into court with a mile-long list of we-told-you-so’s. Imagine getting picked to sit on one of those juries! You could celebrate a couple of birthdays just listening to lawyers read (in relays) all the warnings that show how heedless and risk-prone the defendant’s customers were.

What I’m waiting for is a youth pill. If the drug companies come up with that, forget the side effects, I’m in!

No. Wait a minute. On second thought, I don’t want to know it all again. I’d rather continue to live and learn. Maybe the drug companies can come up with a Wisdom Pill. Imagine how long the side effects of that medicine would be.

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