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Number of posts: 217
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By Tom Poland:
walking among ghosts
Saturday, March 28, the day before we laid Mom to rest, was busy. People bringing food, funeral service details, and other matters kept us on the go. Later, as things settled down, I felt the need to spend time alone and the best place to do that was in Double Branches on Aunt Vivian’s farm. It was a beautiful day, the sky a deep blue. As I drove to Double Branches, wonderful childhood memories returned. As a boy, I spent many a day there fishing in the ponds, exploring the pastures and woods, riding an old mule, and playing baseball with childhood friends Jabe, Joe Boy, and Sweetie Boy.
It’s been called the best country store in South Carolina. You can buy Virginia cured hams there, and you can buy gas, diesel, propane, shotgun shells, wrenches, and frying pans. Why you can even buy hog heads for headcheese, red hash, fig jam, hoop cheese, Blenheim’s Ginger Ale, and cheap wine there. As country stores in this part of the South go, it’s famous. Its fame, in fact, earned it a spot in the esteemed Southern magazine, Garden & Gun. So, if you have a hankering to see a genuine survivor, an honest-to-goodness country store, get in your car and drive US 521 to Salters, South Carolina…
The first time I heard the phrase, “the Information Age,” I wasn’t sure what it meant. The best I could figure it meant an explosion in knowledge was on the way. That, it so happens, was true. Two weeks ago I came across this strange unpronounceable word, “paraskevidekatriaphobia.” I googled it and found an online dictionary that pronounces it. It has nine or ten syllables. I gave up trying to determine just how many but it’s a lot. (Read on if you want to know the word’s meaning.) For sure we have easier ways to learn things now, but “the Information Age,” to me means something else. People don’t talk on the phone much anymore. Maybe we are entering the Antisocial Age.
Clearing away the receipts, letters, and documents that cover my desk I came across my own business card with a woman’s name, Pat, and phone number on the back. It brought back a lot of memories. It’s not what you think. It’s a true story that goes back a ways.
I met Pat seven years ago. With no family in town, Pat, like many others, gathered with others at a neighborhood pub some evenings for conservation, a way to keep loneliness at bay. (For those who work all day only to face an evening alone, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. are the loneliest hours of the day. Meeting others provides a balm.)
reflections of the south
HIGHWAY 501 SC: April. Somewhere near Aynor. Having wrapped up a photo shoot in old Ocean Drive, we drive homeward through wind-driven coastal plain silt. Though dust devils obscure 501, a shimmering red and green mirage breaks through. But it’s no mirage. It’s remembrance. Winds subside, sands drop, and Dean’s Produce emerges next to a cornfield mown to beard-like stubble. Dean’s stand of glinting tin and yellow pine glows with honey, but the incandescent red and green jams gleam like St. Elmo’s fire.
First came the cars. Then the summer vacation stormed America in the late 1940s, becoming an institution that drove more car sales and vacation rentals. And it did something else. It fired up the imagination of people stuck on the road to “there.” Dreamers galore created roadside attractions to tap into the coins rolling down the road. All these years later, all across the United States, in the middle of lackluster nowhere, you’ll come across these wayside-hijacking places. Once upon a time, their spectacles gave America’s highways a bit of character, a rest stop kids refused to let their parents pass.
photo of the week
While men slumber, daring men trawl off the coast. Through dusk, midnight, into dawn their boats dance upon waves, major and minor. But what if a rogue wave or something gone awry scuttled an ill-fated trawler long ago. Does this surreal daybreak reveal that ghostly trawler? Could it be some phantom or mirage, a Fata Morgana?
Look again. It is there absolutely true and believable. High tide has tempted captain intrepid to sift for crustaceans close to shore. To his west, a colossal curl of wind-borne gravity-stricken saltwater topples and the greatest white noise—falling surf—reveals Earth’s great exhaling.
what might yours say?
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful, lest you let other people spend it for you. — Carl Sandburg
In my explorations along back roads, deep woods, and left-behind places, I come across forgotten graveyards. Their tombstones, like tragic figures in some sad drama, long ago surrendered to weathering. Stones cut from rocks softer than granite appear to melt. Their epitaphs, devoid of sharp edges, a bit chalky, and softened by time and the elements prove difficult to decipher, their words illegible…
grandma's weapon of choice
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “fly swatter” as “an implement used for swatting insects, typically a square of plastic mesh attached to a wire handle.” Really? I beg to differ. An honest-to-goodness fly swatter is made of screen-wire. Remember those? Both my grandmothers wielded those instruments of doom with an Olympic fencer’s skill. They were pros. How many times did I watch those ladies pull off a trifecta: dispatching three flies with one swat.
black sheep bootlegger
In the riverbed between Edgefield County, South Carolina, and Lincoln County, Georgia, a copper still sleeps in the ooze gluing two states together. That still, the last vestige of a moonshiner’s art, belonged to my grandfather. How it ended in the Savannah River is a tale of brotherly salvation.
Every family—if it will admit it—shuns some relative from its past. Mine is no exception…
Photo of the Week
My friend and co-author, Robert Clark, and I long planned to give readers a look at the Southland and its abundant beauty, unusual charms, and fascinating stories. We came up with “Closed Wednesdays” but never got it off the ground. Too much traveling, too many book-related events, and life’s way of throwing detours in our path got in the way. We stepped back and thought things over and decided to offer readers something a bit shorter. Seems today’s hectic pace discourages many from reading long pieces. Robert’s idea, “The Photo of the Week”…
america goes pitch black
Over the last few months I’ve been in a lot of book signings. Most are fun and you meet interesting people but sometimes you sit for hours with little to do. Such was the case two weeks ago when Robert Clark and I were out of town at a signing. Things were slow when he said, “I heard that if the power grid goes down, 90 percent of the population will die in a year.”
“That sounds far-fetched,” I said. “No way that could happen.”
“Yeah,” he continued, “most people would not be prepared to deal with it.”
In the summer of 1968 a man walked into Dad’s saw shop gushing about a guy making beaucoups of money. College was out for the summer and I needed a job. The next thing I know, Dad and I were sitting in Augusta’s Bell Auditorium waiting for pitchman, Glenn Turner, whose company, Koscot Cosmetics, needed door-to-door salesmen, the gullible preferred.
From the back of the auditorium a chant took rise … “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” “Money!” and then men cut cartwheels down the aisles all the way to the stage.
from a to z
As a boy I read the Weekly Reader, Outdoor Life, Superman comic books, and the Hardy Boys Adventures. Books were not overly abundant and I read whatever I could. Back then the only library in the world was my elementary school’s one-room collection of books organized by the Dewey Decimal System. Remember it? The 200s covered Religion, the 600s Technology, and the 800s covered Literature. We had to memorize all ten classes, and walk on command to a given class where it sat on the shelves. Today we click a mouse and voila! We are transported to anything we want to know.
locking in love
About five years ago a lovely phenomenon took hold in Europe. Couples wrote, etched, painted, and scratched their names onto padlocks and latched them to fences and railings on bridges. They hurled the keys into the river, canal, what have you. “Nothing can break our love.” In particular, the Pont des Arts footbridge over the Seine in Paris gained renown for this ritual. Only an intrepid scuba diver or bolt-cutting interloper could destroy their love, and that would take some doing. Just imagine all the keys resting on the bottom.
you'll think you're in africa
July 24, Thursday afternoon, 3:30. The July sun bears down with no mercy. The humidity’s high and the terrain rough and remote. To the northwest a cloudbank promises relief but relief never comes. We drive on in no need of windshield wipers.
Robert Clark and I are miles from city life headed deep into the Francis Marion National Forest. To reach our destination, we turn off US Highway 17 onto State Highway 45. We drive for miles looking for Halfway Creek Road.
and politically correct bullies didn’t rule
My high school years unfolded in a time when hanging out at drive-ins and burger joints was all we had. We played 45 RPMs by the Beach Boys and William Jan Berry and Dean Ormsby Torrence. You know them as Jan and Dean of “Dead Man’s Curve” and “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” fame.
a childhood tradition
Last month I was on assignment in a remote place, the kind of place where you see trucks and tractors but few cars. Farm territory. I parked along a weedy, poorly maintained road and as I stepped from the car I saw a sight from childhood. A tangled thicket of briars with succulent, shiny blackberries glistening like onyx pendants. Red berries, hard and yet to ripen, waited their turn for sunshine to do its magic.
some choose to kill it
I see a lot of abandoned homes in the hinterlands. Way more than I should. Awnings fallen off. Gutters rotting. Roofs caving in. You can tell no one gives a damn about them. What, I wonder, condemned them to abandonment? Economics gone south? Bad family blood? No will? Foreclosures on places nobody wants? Not worth the money it’d take to bring them up to code?
we need a new icon
When I think back to my years at the University of Georgia, three symbols come to mind. The university’s iconic arch, the Georgia “G,” and the peace symbol, adopted by hippies and Vietnam protesters. During my days at the University of Georgia, I’d see the peace symbol, the hippie sign, as some called it, all over Athens. People sprayed it on bridges and sidewalks, people wore it on T-shirts, and posters plastered it all over telephone poles. Yeah, give peace a chance.
on the refrigerator
The inventors of the components that make a refrigerator didn’t mean to build a museum and art gallery, but they did. I bet you cover your refrigerator with photos, mementos, and a few magnets that include everything from pizza parlors to emergency numbers to call. By far, the most popular images, I’ll wager, are those of loved ones, in particular, grandkids, and for many, pets. Consider the refrigerator a photo album, Rolodex, museum, and gallery all rolled into one…
“The lost and wondrous wreckage of America. The ceaseless road to nowhere. Yeah, that’s my home.”
That’s how John Mulhouse introduces visitors to his blog, City Of Dust. His blog (A term I can never bring myself to like) documents in words and photographs places abandoned, crumbling, stuck in the middle of nowhere, and to be blunt places few people have the intellect to appreciate. His work resonated with me as it is much like what Robert Clark and I do.
scary 1950s stuff
Scary Stuff From the 1950s: I’ll take adventure in the wilderness over television shows any day. One great disappointment today is how little there is to watch on TV despite there being more channels than ever. Was just the opposite when I was a child of the 1950s. We had few channels but plenty good shows to watch and some shows scared us pretty good. Horror shows and science fiction series gave me a jolt. What kid of the 1950s doesn’t remember quicksand.
churchill enjoyed the show
Early Easter morning on the running trail, 53 degrees and windy. It’s cool and damp from the previous day’s rain and dogwood petals, leaves to be truthful, fall like snow. Elvis Presley is on my mind. Running through falling dogwood flurries makes for an odd time to be thinking of Elvis but that’s what happens when you’ve just seen an Elvis impersonator. And it’s a strange time to be thinking of Winston Churchill too, unless you’ve just been to the Wilcox Inn in Aiken.
do so with caution
Once again a memory from my boyhood days working at Clifford Goolsby’s store digs its way to the surface. That store was a portal to a sometimes-strange world, and one of the stranger things I heard came out of the mouth of Bill Goolsby, a true character. Bill ran the register at Mr. Clifford’s. He was a good-humored fellow and a prankster who soldered a quarter to a nail and drove it into the wooden floor near the register. How many laughs …
lap of luxury
What a sumptuous hotel the Ocean Forest was, described by one writer as “the finest hotel between New York and Miami.” From NYC to Myrtle Beach it’s 558 miles. From Miami to Myrtle Beach it’s 554 miles. Slap dab in the middle as we say around these parts. Built in the late 1920s the hotel’s price tag came in around $1 million. The “million-dollar hotel’s” goal was to create an East Coast haven for well-heeled folks in New York and Miami. They built it and the rich they did come. The location and the hotel’s grandeur, many insist, made Myrtle Beach the tourist destination it is today.
atomic paradise sequel
During a recent trip to Savannah River Site I toured the ghost town of Ellenton. Since I wrote “Atomic Paradise” Ellenton, an apparition, haunts me. An entire town … moved. In researching “Atomic Paradise” I examined the unexpected exodus of Ellenton’s residents and two things caught my attention. One involves nature; the other human nature.
Nature first. The afternoon I saw Ellenton brushy undergrowth grew where homes had sat. Where people once slept…
savannah river site
Savannah River Site, the bomb plant, sprawls across the land near Aiken—a 61-mile drive from where I grew up. When I was a boy I discovered the woman next door, Miss Ann, made the 120-plus-mile round-trip five days a week. A peacekeeper of sorts, she’d gotten on at the bomb plant. For a long time I knew little about this nuclear reservation.
Years passed. One July day in 1986, a self-assigned writing project took me to Savannah River Site…
In my outings around town I often see people in their thirties socializing. They run in packs and hop from bar to bar like fleas. They cluster up at festivals watching passersby, pointing, and laughing at others. They run together as couples and they break into male and female packs seeking adventure sure to banish boredom. This phenomenon is not new. We did it when we were in our thirties. Some of you did too. It’s been happening as long as men and women itch to escape the same old same old.
gave gouthern boys a fine ski
Back in the 1960s when I hung out at Georgia’s Elijah Clark State Park, the cool guys were into water skiing. I got into it too and learned to slalom. That was a big deal. Learning to take off from shore standing on one leg was an even bigger deal, and I did that despite my most ordinary ski’s limitations. No matter how well you skied though, not having a big name ski rubbed a lot of luster off your accomplishment. A Dick Pope Jr. ski, however, carried cachet. A cheap ski? It might as well be a plank.
life rises from the earth
The day breaks gray, cold, and wet. Rain and mists swirl and shift like apparitions as winds whip them across the highway. Like twin metronomes, my windshield wipers lay down a steady beat … driving north, driving north, driving north. I’m driving to Lancaster, South Carolina, to interview a Catawba potter. To get there I drive up I-77 and peel off on SC Highway 200, a two-lane road running through pine-clad hills. It runs through hard times too.
If you didn’t read my column about how a mule’s kick ended up killing eight people, you are in the minority. Of all the columns I’ve written over the last four years none have generated quit a stir like this one. It began to show up on Facebook. People began to share it all over the place and Augusta radio personality Austin Rhodes came across it. He read the entire column over the air on WGAC. The floodgates opened up.
physician heal thyself!
When I was in college, the hippie kingdom railed against the hated Military-Industrial Complex. The MIC, they felt sure, was more than happy to wage war in Vietnam and rake in beaucoups of money. Making bombs to make a buck. Oh the outrage. Well where are hippies when you need them?
Today we have another MIC wreaking havoc on us: the Medical-Insurance Complex.
every scar tells a story
Back in a simpler, better time… In my case, five scars bring back memories of Dr. Weems Pennington Sr., a doctor who epitomized what a family physician should be. He was smart, kind, funny, and kept many of us rolling despite an excess of maladies, ills, and accidents. He had a way of teaching you to be courageous no matter what bedeviled you. He’s been gone for seven years but he lives on in the hearts and minds of many, and he always will.
book banners be warned
It’s a memory that refuses to die and it took place on the front steps of the old brick high school that overlooks Buddy Bufford Field back home. Angry classmates swarm around Skipper Hardin and me, furious because we had the gall to read Charles Darwin’s books on the theory of evolution. Even worse we were so bold as to talk about Darwin’s theory in class. Blasphemy! They thought Darwin’s books should be not just banned, but burned.
Worthy of Comment
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