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By Tom Poland:
A Southern Classic
Fourth of July brings picnics and lake outings aplenty, and it means fried chicken, all the fixings, and gallons of iced tea, a southern tradition. Before we proceed with this exposition on tea let’s take care of a slightly irritating matter. I hear this great beverage referred to as “ice tea” and “iced tea.” Which is correct?
I prefer “iced tea.” After all it’s the ice clinking in the glass that chills tea, giving it the cool, refreshing taste we love so much on a summer day. “
Southern Aurora Borealis
In the pantheon of great night-sky spectacles, you’re sure to find meteor showers, lunar eclipses, the Aurora Borealis, mysterious fireballs, and the uncommon comet. Lattices of lightning make my list too, but there’s one conspicuous absence, absent possibly because this show clings to the horizon and many miss it. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.
One of the unsung joys of summer is a star-filled evening softly underlain by heat lightning.
Before Toilet Paper
It stood a strategic ways from the house and no home could do without one. People loved using it when the time was right. This staple of life never failed to make people feel better. In a way it was a luxury. About now young folks reading this are shaking their head. “What’s he talking about? The pool?” Hardly. I’d wager most young folks have never seen an outhouse, much less used one unless they live in the deepest recesses of Appalachia. I have and I bet a good many of you veteran readers have too. I recall the outhouse at my granddad’s place. It sat a calculated ways back on a slope between his home and store. (How far away you placed your outhouse had to be carefully planned, as you’ll see.) That old outhouse served people well. It had a smell of course but the truth is it […]
Over here across the Savannah there’s an old road that makes for a great Sunday drive. In no time at all, you can see historic sites, get the feeling you are in the mountains, and yet feel you are at the coast, all at the same time. More than that you’ll come across the ghosts of historic characters, some of whom will surprise you.
Old SC State Route 261, birthed by an Indian path and widened by public act in 1753 became “The Great Charleston Road.” What feet have trod this path that connected Charleston with Camden. Festooned with old churches and plantations this passage hosted a Civil War diarist, governors, Revolutionary and Confederate generals, and just off its path a man rests eternally, a man we should think of come Christmas.
Julie wouldn’t look me in the eye. She tore off bits of paper napkin and rolled them into little balls. Every few seconds she’d glance at her girlfriend pleading for help. She was trying to explain what happened to her marriage. And then she broke down. Tears welled up in her eyes and she put her head on my shoulder. Her girlfriend reached out and stroked her blonde hair.
Julie’s 41 with two teenagers and she’s alone and scared, not to mention devastated. A neighbor ended up with her husband. The road to love and happiness: what a brutal road.
I can’t speak for crooks, drifters, and others standing before a judge, but law-abiding Georgians love their courthouses and well they should. Georgia has one of America’s great collections of courthouses. The buildings range from Greek Revival to International Style. In fact, just about every architectural style imaginable can be found in Georgia’s 159 counties.
What’s interesting is that although Georgia is the twentieth largest state, it is second in number of courthouses. Only Texas has more. Without doubt, Georgia has a reputation for having some of the more beautiful and historic courthouses in the country.
The Good, Bad, & Ugly
How often we drive along giving no thought to the road we travel. And more often than that we give no thought to how the road got its name. In my case, I’m often forced to learn why or how a road got its name. Generally it makes for interesting reading. Over the years I’ve profiled several highways for magazines. Some of these profiles have worked their way into books. All the roads you’ll note have numeric names: Highway 378, Highway 17 the coastal byway, and Highway 76 a road that crosses South Carolina from the Peach State to the Tarheel State.
Simpler Good Times
Despite the high price of gasoline the summer vacation lives on. A lot of families will vacation at the beach this summer. Over here, across the Savannah, that usually means a trip to Myrtle Beach, Pawley’s Island, Charleston, or Edisto. When I was a boy, it meant a trip to Florida. I recall Silver Springs, Daytona, and much later tours of Cape Canaveral and days at a house near the sea in Ormond Beach.
What have man wrought? Well let’s start with iron, wrought iron. Favored for ornamental fences and gates it’s an aspect of the South that’s as southern as biscuits and molasses, as southern as sunshine and magnolias.
For a long time I thought wrought iron had one purpose: to give cemeteries a secure and attractive enclosure. My earliest memories of wrought iron fences go back to the cemeteries in Lincoln County. I saw enough of these stately fences around cemeteries to get that notion firmly in my head. And I well remember a wrought iron fence up at Lincoln County’s Beulah Baptist church because my cousin, Larry Walker, gashed his leg climbing over that fence when he was a boy.
Made in the Shade
How fine the Southern sun and yet how strong. Sunlight in the South is one and half times more intense than in the North. How damaging that Southern sunlight can be to the eyes, a fact apparently lost on the Texas boys, ZZ Top, who didn’t worry about cataracts when they wrote “Cheap Sun Glasses.”
“When you wake up in the morning and the light hurts your head … go get yourself some cheap sunglasses. Now go out and get yourself some big black frames … With the glass so dark they won’t even know your name … And the choice is up to you cause they come in two classes: Rhinestone shades or cheap sunglasses.”
When I worked in film one of my early assignments was writing a script about Carolina bays, perhaps North America’s most unusual landform. The subject intrigued me on two levels. One, I have always found swamps alluring. Two, Carolina Bays, so the speculation went, resulted from a massive bombardment of meteorites.
Our film was to explore the possible origins of these swamps and present them as rich oases of abundant wildlife. I mentioned this project to a city slicker and his response was subdued and predictable. “If you see one swamp, you’ve seen them all.” I never saw this unenthusiastic fellow again. Too bad. He could not have been more wrong.
Early daylight is our god.
We are disciples all. We go where the light leads us, and it leads to a crumpled, carved land where the earth flexes rock-hard muscles. Here, in this uplifted land of tangled greenery, early light uplifts the spirit. No place slakes a thirst for wanderlust like these conflicted highlands and their crusade eternal — water versus rock.
Every man’s memory is his private literature. —Aldous Huxley
When you live a piece from your childhood home you seldom see reminders of your early years but when you do it’s a revelation. Just one word can jump-start a string of memories with nothing in common but that word and you, the memoirist.
One word. That’s all it takes,
In Irmo, South Carolina, Choosing Politicians is a Catch-22
Irmo, South Carolina, sits 10 miles northwest of Columbia, the state capital. People extol Irmo—the Gateway to Lake Murray—as one of the country’s most sought after places to live. Well, that’s what realtors’ brochures would have you believe, but a little embellishment never hurts, right?
Running north to south, a busy rail line cuts through Irmo. Trains rumble, rush, and wreak havoc with traffic all day and night. That would please dearly departed railroaders C.J. Iredell and H.C. Moseley. They founded the town in 1890, graciously christening their whistle-stop “Irmo.”
Talk about a blessing. A memory of an old classmate or friend pops into your head seemingly from nowhere. You’ve long given him no thought but the next second the friend is there, as real as the rising sun. And then the memories flood in. What a gift.
I had this experience recently and an old familiar face materialized from the past, Charles Lewis, he of two forenames. My classmate he was at Lincoln High School in the mid to late 1960s.
We called him Zewis and he ranks high on the list of unique characters I’ve known …
New Year's Resolutions
Insight, Wisdom, & Good Advice For 2012
Permit me to write yet another clichéd column for the New Year: one on the oh-so-elusive goal of making and sticking to resolutions. Losing weight, giving up cigarettes, and resolving to exercise are worthy but trite goals we hear every January 1. Fine, if you smoke, bust the scales, and are sedentary do something about it.
A runner and a non-smoker, I looked elsewhere for my resolutions and I found them. Great quotes. When a luminary, that 50-dollar word for legend, makes observations that burst with truth the words often becomes memorable quotes.
Only 363 Shopping Days 'til Xmas
A Norman Rockwell Christmas Becomes A Horror Show
Bah humbug at its best and truth at its most honest. Enjoy!
‘Twas the day after Christmas and folks were happy as could be. Another Christmas had come and gone and a lot of people were glad. Around midnight December 25 a collective sigh of relief swept from the East Coast to the West as bells tolled midnight. You could feel the country breathe easier as 10 trillion tons of stress evaporated.
If there’s a more stressful time than Christmas…
One summer day traveling a back road with friends I made a prediction. “When we hit the town up ahead I bet we’ll see a trampoline for sale.” Sure enough as soon as we entered the town limits there it was leaning against the wall of a Western Auto. My friends broke into laughter and accused me of having been through the town before.
Not true I said. It’s just that more than a few times I’ve noticed how small town stores always have a trampoline for sale. The people who sell trampolines must be pretty good. In many a small town as soon as you hit the town limits, there it is: a trampoline leaning up against a store. Propping one up against a wall amounts to a billboard of sorts and it’s hard to miss. For sale. Get your jumps here.
Jump on oh trampoliners of the world but understand that backyard bouncing is nothing new. I present the joggling board.
It smells like a blend of a spirited elixir and exotic fruit and it’s a liquid as clear as glass. Its unexpected fragrance keeps you inhaling. You just can’t identify the bouquet, an exhalation hard to describe. Touch a burning match to a teaspoon of it and a pale violet flame dances and whorls like the Aurora Borealis on a frosty Canadian night. Touch that clear-as-glass liquid to your tongue and lips and a searing sting lingers.Hooch, white lightning, mountain dew, corn liquor, moonshine, rot gut, whatever you call it, this spirit has long been a part of the lore of the South…
When I look back over my years as a Georgia student and a Georgia Bulldog fan, a mascot and four men embody University of Georgia football to me: our fine line of Uga mascots, Vince Dooley, Herschel Walker, Lewis Grizzard, and Larry Munson.
Long ago I set a goal to meet all of them. I’ve met Dooley and I’ve been fortunate enough to pat several Ugas on the head. I’ve yet to meet the great Herschel Walker the goal line stalker, and death has denied me a chance to meet Grizzard and Munson. I can tell you this though. I never go to or watch a Georgia game that I don’t think of Larry Munson. He and Georgia football are as intertwined as rum and Cokes, as punts and kicks as red and black.
Take a moment and envision what you consider to be classic Southern settings. I suspect you’ll come up with the cresting Atlantic, sand dunes, and sea oats. Go ahead and imagine a painted bunting clinging to a sea oat stalk. Swaying in the breeze that bird serves up a brilliant burst of feathery color that perfects this vintage Southern scene.
Some of you may summon up a ridge of blue, smoky mountains, a pocket of fog nestled in a deepening valley. Why not place a setting sun between two peaks to create a view worthy of a postcard.
Winter officially arrives December 22, a Thursday. I’ve looked at some predictions for what this winter might be like. From all accounts, we’re in for a more typical winter. Not one with several snows like we had last year, a rarity in the South which I enjoyed.
Something about being at home with a good supply of hot chocolate, soup, coffee, and comfort food in the pantry makes a snowy day a beautifully peaceful day. No need to get out on the roads. Just watch the snow fall. Calm and exhilaration all at once.
But what if you lived in a place where winter provides a stern test of your survival skills?
There’s an advertisement on TV that features quite a character, “the world’s most interesting man.” This intriguing fellow promotes Dos Equis beer, and he’s done just about anything you can think of. He’s fictitious, of course, the creation of an ad agency. You’ve seen the guy. “Stay thirsty, my friend.”
Well, real life serves up unforgettable people who quietly accomplish great things and it’s my privilege to know a most interesting man who’s always a gentleman, my Uncle Joe Blonsky.
Do Boys Still Follow Men Afield?
It’s a classic late afternoon, autumn day. Men in tan jackets of canvas follow a pair of pointers working a brushy field. Absolute pure sunlight slants low across the land. Occasionally a gun reflects the light. The dogs methodically work the sage. Scenting birds, they edge forward, then freeze. Seconds later the covey explodes and shots ring out as brass and cherry-red shells flash in the gloaming. The dogs fetch two quail and the men compliment them on their fine work.
It was a headline in The State newspaper I could not resist. “Fake Snake Causes Crash On S.C. 55.”
This prank sounds like something I’d do, I thought, and then I read the story, which I share here. “A Clover man was arrested this week after the rubber snake he tossed on S.C. 55 just outside town caused a crash, according to a York County Sheriff’s Office report.
The North beat the South in the Civil War but it didn’t beat the independence out of Southerners. Determined not to depend on the North for textiles, the South set about building its own textile mills. New England barons would relocate mills to the South as well, creating a textile industry that would thrive until cheap labor abroad stole the industry away.
As these old factories went up along canals and rapids, an exodus took place as Southerners abandoned the farm for the mill. For more than 100 years the workday for many Southerners began with the blast of whistles. Some whistles were so loud people joked, “They could wake the dead.”
Homes clustered around the factory and the mill village came to be, a hamlet where hard work and hope lived side by side.
Former Atlanta Braves pitcher, Denny Lemaster, was born in Corona, a city deep in southern California. The postcard pretty Santa Ana Mountains overlook Corona, a city some 2,007 miles from Lincoln County, Georgia.
It’s quite a journey that brought Denny to Lincoln County, a voyage through time and geography that involves rocks, baseballs, bats, fish, knives, and blocks of wood.
It began in 1958 when Denver Clayton Lemaster signed with the Milwaukee Braves as a left-handed pitcher. He broke into the big leagues July 15, 1962, with the Milwaukee Braves. Before his professional baseball career was over, it would include time with the Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, and Montreal Expos.
Science fiction gave us the time warp, an imaginary way people from one era can leap forward and backward in time. Culture and fashion give us time warps, too, but they’re real, and instead of letting people move through time, they set a deadly trap—locking you in the past.
The other day I was pumping gas into my car when I heard a commotion down the street. An old Volkswagen bus pouring smoke clattered into the Hess station. Seemed like nothing but bumper stickers held it together. Things like “Love One Another,” “Peace,” and “Bare Feet, Not Arms.” And of course it had the requisite peace symbol. Seeing it was like going back to 1968. It was a cliché straight from the Haight-Ashbury.
Over the past few weeks I’ve traveled through a good bit of our region. My purpose was to check things out for a magazine feature I’m writing. I’ve been up in the South Carolina and Georgia mountains, seen waterfalls, and I’ve traveled dry, backroad barrens. I’ve rafted the Chattooga and driven along Lakes Russell and Clark Hill. I climbed a mountain similar to Graves Mountain in Abbeville County, and I took a good look at Russell Dam. I’ve visited Pumpkintown and stood atop Caesar’s Head. I’ve seen a lot of our special corner of the South …
Of all the places I’ve seen, one landmark stands out because of the sharp contrast it serves the eyes. On one hand, some of these landmarks possess a singular beauty despite their melancholy nature. On the other hand, their modern counterparts leave me cold and empty. I’m writing about a place to rest: cemeteries.
The uninitiated might call then obscure, but they’d be wrong. Three Southern artists stand out from the 1960s. Billy Joe Royal who found fame in Savannah’s legendary Bamboo Ranch and rocketed to fame with “Down In The Boondocks.” The Georgia boy who produced Royal’s hit had two hits of his own, “Games People Play” and “Walk A Mile In My Shoes.” That Georgia boy was Atlanta’s Joe South.
And then a group of guys in Greenwood, South Carolina, released “Double Shot,” an instant classic. If they could achieve fame in the midst of the British Invasion, I thought, well, anything is possible.
Each morning, cup of coffee in hand, I walk my lawn in Columbia, South Carolina looking for fallen branches and pinecones. Each day I walk the grounds checking the hydrangeas, gardenias, tea olives, aucubas, azaleas, and assorted flowers. Parched, blazing summer days wreak havoc on plants. Checking them daily becomes a necessity and more than that it feels good to walk across Georgia sod. Yes, my feet are on Georgia soil once again.
You’ve heard the bit of wisdom that goes a cold winter is good because it kills a lot of insect pests. I don’t believe that for a moment. We had a cold winter but it’s summertime and insects buzz around grills, pools, ball fields, patios, and decks. On the highway they turn my windshield into a greasy, smeary mess.
Bugs buzz, bite, amuse, pollinate, sting, glow, annoy, destroy, and make summer days and evenings more interesting. I ask you what would the South be without its bugs?
People are excited over this way. They’ve finally found a place to shop that not only is fun but a step back into the past. Just walking through this place is a joy. The general store is not extinct. It is alive and well and its barrels of hard candies, taffy, and licorice please the eye and the palate.
If you’ve never heard of the Mast General Store, you need to find one. Even if you don’t spend one red dime, you’ll have a grand time. Recently A Mast General Store opened over here, across the Savannah, on Main Street in downtown Columbia, and while adjoining stores get very little business, Mast General crawls with folks for a simple reason. It has atmosphere and a little something for everyone.
Rome’s ancient ruins add draw to that modern-day enterprise known as tourism. To see Rome is to see her ruins, but Rome has nothing on the South.
It thrills me to see remnants and ruins of the Old South still standing. One look at the photograph attending this feature and your eyes will keep going back. The photograph, artfully taken by my friend, Brian Dressler, reveals the columned ruins of Millwood Plantation here in Columbia, South Carolina. What you are looking at are the remnants of a grand southern plantation that sat on 13,000 acres once upon a time in the antebellum South. A Confederate general by the name of Wade Hampton III owned the plantation.
Something about summer burns its way into our memory, and it’s not the summer sun either. Summer just seems to be a time for remembering and taking account of things. Remembering things like special life moments, friends, those no longer with us, and moments when some crystallizing event turned memory photographic. Times when you still see the past as clearly as a crackling yellow-blue lightning bolt. For me, and you, too, I bet, there’s that one summer you keep going back to.
We all have a summer that stands out from the rest if we think about it.
Let’s step back into the days of farm life and simpler times, the days when neighbors helped neighbors. The times when some folks had a milk cow or two and a lot of people made their own clothes. Just about everyone had a garden, and a lot of folks canned their own vegetables. A lot of folks today would say they were poor. I say they were rich: they just didn’t know it.
Granted those days were harder but they loom large in memory for a simple reason. Families were connected to the earth. They actually got their hands in dirt. Folks grew much of what they needed and so a fixture of those days was the indispensable feed and seed store. Alas, like the old country store, these fine institutions are fading from contemporary life, replaced by modern monoliths with names like country clubs.
You never heard such a racket. A murder of crows in attack mode circled a pine in the woods fronting Mom’s house. Something serious was drawing their ire. The fury of their crowing stopped me from working on a fountain to investigate. High above a hawk dive-bombed the crows, scattering them temporarily. A battle between raptors and crows was underway.
For several days, the crows continued to harass some target in the same spot, and I walked into the woods to investigate. I could see nothing other than pine limbs and blue Georgia sky. I forgot abut this aerial warfare, and then the April 5 storm toppled trees, downed power lines, and plunged the county into darkness. People, however, weren’t the only recipients of the storms’ fury.
One of the great things about this new age is the speed of the Internet. Email may be the next best thing to mental telepathy. A few seconds on the keyboard, hit send, and a message tears off at the speed of light. The truly great thing about the Internet, however, is the way we share interests with people we’ve never met. In many ways, email has supplanted the mighty telephone as a communications medium.
I’ve never met Charlie Smith down in Wrightsville but I feel like I know Charlie and he and I are, for sure, friends. I know we will meet someday. Charlie found me over the Internet and began reading my columns.
I want to thank Charlie for this column, and I think you will thank him too.
March 31, 1973. Athens, Georgia. We had no Weather Channel. We had no Internet, no cell phones or mobile devices to warn us. We had radio, which doesn’t work too well when the power lines go down. We did, however, have one sure-fire way to see what the weather was up to. Look out the window.
That afternoon, March 31, I looked out the window of the mobile home Dad bought for me to live in and saw white, hard rain driving sideways past my window. The huge oak behind the trailer bent over beyond belief. And then, trembling, the mobile home rose ever so slightly before settling off-kilter onto its concrete block foundation.
And then silence. Until a wave of unceasing sirens began to wail.
A few years ago a mansion stood on Lake Murray over here. Some 20,000 square feet, it featured a Roman bath and several corridors away a dining room overlooked by a 1600’s platform from which the Pope once blessed the masses.
Beyond the platform, suspended from a 60-foot ceiling, hung a huge frame of stained glass from England. Someone, somehow, had spirited it out of the country. It was said to be on England’s Register of Historic Artifacts. But there it was, hanging just so, in front of a huge southern-facing window catching light as it had in ancient days, light that now falls on empty 21st Century space. Brantley Manor, you see, is no more, a grandiose white elephant razed to make way for condos. And its stained glass? Sold I suppose, and hanging in an opulent home not to be disclosed. Stained glass all right …
Coach Jimmy – Coach Cake Bake
It was not my idea to be an alcoholic. I didn’t want to be one. After I found out I was one, I tried not to. And I mean I tried everything in me not to be an alcoholic. I tried 29 shock treatments. I went to a witch doctor. I was willing to try anything. Nothing worked until I got to AA. —Coach Jimmy Smith
After he sobered up, Coach Jimmy found a mission. “He began baking cakes,” said Randy, “peddling them door to door.” One of his specialty cakes was his Hershey Bar cake. “He created the recipe,” said Randy, “and mother has not let anyone have it yet. People still ask about that cake.”
Was it a Hershey Bar that landed Garnett Wallace, Sydney Smith, Don Crozier, and Joe Sturkey 600 yards of stop and go back in the ’60s?
When Daddy got sober in 1979 I was in the eighth grade and though I held on to some resentment I saw a different side of Daddy during my final years at home. We had great times fishing, going to ballgames, or sitting on the porch talking. —Nicky Smith
The road was long and hard, close to 30 years. Thank goodness he made his way back. Thank goodness he walked out of the darkness. Randy told me how his dad began the long walk back to a place called abstinence.
“Bobby Rachels Senior, a brick mason, got Daddy interested in raccoon hunting again, and that began Daddy’s road to sobriety,” said Randy.
After he recovered, Coach Smith talked to members of Alcoholics Anonymous, helping others to shake the guilt, loneliness, and hopelessness from their souls. In a way, he became famous, a rescuer of kindred spirits.
Before I settled for I-20 as the quickest way to drive home from Columbia, I took Highway 378 for many years. I drove that backroad so many times, I could describe every tree and rock along its shoulders. Finally, I quit driving it altogether because it took longer and longer. Then after many a year, I took 378 home again for a lark and I suppose for old time’s sake. My journey this time did not end in Lincolnton. No, it ended back in my high school days. There it was, a sign, “The Coach Jimmy Smith Highway.”
Suddenly, a rush of memories overtook me and I was time traveling back to memorable days and an unforgettable man. Coach Jimmy Smith. How great, I thought, that the good folks back home honored my old coach. And then I thought a bit more about that sign and I knew there had to be more to it than that.
Mark your calendar. On March 20, at 7:21 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, spring arrives. Are you ready for some nice weather, flowers, green grass, and sunshine? I sure am. We’ve had more cloudy days than I can recall. I feel as though I’ve lived in Washington and Oregon for three months. How can those Northwest folks stand such melancholy weather?
Spring can’t get here fast enough. Let’s hear it for robins pulling up worms, wild onions sprouting, jonquils blooming, and pine pollen puffing about. Yes, pine pollen. Clouds of pollen drifting through the air. I can’t wait to see jonquils standing thick and strong. I’m ready for a case of spring fever, but I’m afraid I’ll have to wait …
I’d gladly trade any chances of snow we have to see wisteria and dogwoods blooming, bees buzzing, and hummingbirds flitting about. Bring on the yellow jasmine. Bring on the honeysuckle. I’m more than ready to see my St. Augustine grass greening up. I can’t wait to smell the fragrance of freshly mown grass.
Technology is remodeling life & work styles — Can you keep up?
As the ad says, “life comes at you fast.” Just about every day you see a news item hyping a faster way to do something. Here’s one for those who find credit card swiping a tad tedious.
DATELINE ATLANTA: About 400,000 credit-card holders in Georgia will be the first in the country to use a new technology that allows them to pay for items by waving their card near a terminal instead of swiping it through a machine …
Mankind’s dreams for a perfect world include perpetual motion machines and cars that run on water. The former, banished to the museum of unworkable machines, proves you can’t get something for nothing. The latter, however, stands a chance to change the world. A good one, for a colorless, odorless, buoyant gas could lift the world above fossil fuel reliance …
Imagine a world free of smog and global warming, a world of clean, efficient cars powered by the Number One Atom. Others do and that’s why hydrogen demand in the next decade is expected to soar. Indeed, many car manufacturers have prototype vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The possibilities are tantalizing, and South Carolina is in the quest for energy’s Holy Grail.
Let’s go back to a time when you could get a custom radio built for maybe 45 cents, and it needed no batteries nor did you need to plug it in. It was environmentally friendly to say the least. And you could be sure there wasn’t another one like it in the world.
Both added rustic beauty to the land but you see them less and less. Both spoke to man’s resourcefulness, and yet they were too simple to survive. And thus the land loses two countryside icons: fire lookout towers and windmills. Oh you see plenty of blinking cell towers but you see fewer and fewer fire towers and windmills, picturesque, but sentenced to live in the past.
How many times has a drive through the country been more memorable thanks to a windmill or a fire tower, and how sad when you come that way again and see one or both gone. The horizon loses its fading stars and is all the less for it.
So here we are at the leading edge of another year, another year where many make promises to change their life in a meaningful way. How about you? Make any New Year’s resolutions?
I’m not big on making New Year resolutions. Why wait until the first of the year to make a needed change. Still, January 1 provides a definitive starting point for many when it comes to making life changes … Here’s one resolution that won’t stress you out like trying to lose weight will. It won’t prove as maddening as quitting smoking, so smokers tell me (I never smoked). It won’t punish you by denying you foods you love as you try to slim down. It will, however, broaden your mind. I’m talking about reading more. That’s the one resolution I’m making: to read more books in 2011.
Nothing gets folks riled up like a mean old wasp flying around, and when a lot of wasps fill the air, the fun begins. I recall how much joy I got out of watching red wasps flit about the sanctuary at New Hope Baptist Church when I was a boy.
I knew from great personal sacrifice that a wasp sting is one painful sting, among the worst stings in fact. And so it was with keen interest that I watched red wasps flutter about in New Hope Church in the 1960s. Throughout my boyhood, I was certain a wasp would nail a member of the congregation some day giving me a memory for life.
A songwriter by the name of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins wrote a song recorded by many artists, “I Put A Spell On You.” You’ve heard Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version I’m sure. The song has nothing to do with black magic but it conjures up images of voodoo dolls pierced with pins, and it reminds me that voodoo is alive and well in 2010 and beyond. And why not.
That old black magic has long been a part of Southern culture. Back in the 1950s, My Dad operated a small pulpwood business. One of his workers would fall ill now and then. Massive and muscular, he often told Dad, “Someone put a root on me.” One time he couldn’t work because he said his “stomach was full of live lizards,” absolutely convicted someone put a root on him. The fellow’s name was even a term for a hex, Whammy.
Now and then some mission takes me off the beaten path into a land known as The Past. I’ll see cotton fields, old country stores, and here and there a lonely sight, an old home place that’s fallen apart board by board, brick by brick.
Last fall while on assignment I stumbled across an abandoned farm hidden by mobs of kudzu. It had a small pen and nearby a dusty, cracked mule collar hung on a stable wall. The home and farm were left behind by the times, quaint times when a farmer might go to town Saturdays to shop for a mule. Now all those farmers and their way of life are gone.
I don’t have to be on an assignment, however, to come upon the homes of yesteryear. I see them a lot out in the country and they always lift and lower my spirits.
Once upon a time, wrestling was an ancient martial art where men grappled, clinched, fought, threw, and took down each other. And then show business got into the ring with wrestling.
Like car racing, wrestling grew up to be big-time entertainment. The key word in that sentence is “entertainment.” People love to see body slams, chairs smashed across bodies, and men tossed out of rings. All this vicarious violence must somehow be good for the soul, but deep inside we know it’s fake. Right?
Just down the road from my boyhood home, past a small church and its small graveyard with crooked tombstones, sat a country store with crates of empty Cokes and Royal Crown Colas stacked out back. Many days I walked the roadsides picking up bottles and cashing them in at Goolsby’s … enterprising work for a nine-year old with a ten-dollar dream.
Not much later I got a job pumping gas and bagging groceries there … Some of the talk seemed foreign, not foreign like German, but foreign in that it made no sense. I must have been ten when I heard someone down at Clifford Goolsby’s store say, “He got on at the bum plant. Yeah, he got a job at the bum plant.”
This little feature can best be appreciated over a glass of iced tea. So take a moment to pour a glass and then read on.
The growing season is over and many people who love growing things are resigned to winter’s onset and the cold, early darkness it brings. Not all, however, view winter that way. As I flip through the index cards in my memory under the category of “Gardeners,” I remember growers who chose to be specialists. I remember a friend and business associate of my Dad’s, Holcombe Verdery of Harlem, Georgia, who grew spectacular roses. His roses seemed as big as a head of lettuce, if not bigger. He had a remarkable rose garden, one fit for a president.
There’s nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. —Ronald Reagan
December In The Lowcountry. It’s a cold, blustery December morning. Three horsemen lean into a biting wind at renowned Oaklawn Plantation. With hollowed horns used to signal the other members of the hunting party strapped across their backs, they ride through widely-spaced stands of fire-blackened longleaf pine, the horses beneath them near invisible in the thick underbrush and tall grass that has sprung up since the last time these woods burned. Their quest? Heritage and deer.
The August 5 edition of my hometown newspaper, the Lincoln Journal, mentioned that primitive weapon deer hunts are to be held this fall at Bussey Pointe in Lincoln County. The report brought back the days when my Granddad Poland often referred to the Bussey Place down in Double Branches, and it resurrected one day in particular, my one day as a deer hunter back in 1979.
My lunches have been simple but delicious all summer. I’ve pretty much lived off tomato sandwiches. I grow my own tomatoes in the back yard. Here in the city we don’t have that much land for planting a garden, so I satisfy my urge to farm in a simple manner: bush tomatoes in one half of an old whiskey barrel. I’m always thinking of other things I’d like to grow. The desire to grow things is one of those instincts hardwired into us. Somewhere along the human highway running from hunter to gatherer, we learned to stay in one place and grow those things that sustain us.
(The way things are going we all may resort to growing our own food soon, but that’s a story for another day.)
Growing up back home, I remember gardens aplenty…
We love our cars. Just hop in, turn the key, and off we go wherever and whenever we want. Contrast that to mass transit. You go by its schedule and you have little choice as to whom you sit near. It can be, and often is, a less-than-stellar experience.
An email came across my desk last week where a writer described the difficult time she had riding a bus from Columbia to Washington D.C. and back, a 27-hour journey. It involved rude people, an oversexed couple, and ultimately an arrest.
I could relate to her adventure, having ridden a Greyhound from Columbia to Charleston, West Virginia, eons ago. My memories of buses and bus stations, however, come from being on the other side of the ticket window. And what memories they are.
A writer is only as good as his material, and now and then something profound falls into his lap. For close to two years now I’ve been working on a book for the University of South Carolina Press. Early chapters of the book concern the blues …
Frank Beacham, a journalist originally from Honea Path, South Carolina, wrote a penetrating chronicle called “Charlie’s Place.” The story originally appears in his book, Whitewash: A Journey through Music, Mayhem and Murder (available at http://www.booklocker.com/books/939.html). Frank and I exchanged emails, and he granted me permission to excerpt his account of Charlie’s Place and the Chitlin’ Circuit. It’s a story that’s Old South, and it brought back my childhood in several telling ways.
A piece of junk mail from Belk came my way last week promoting a Father’s Day sale. On the cover was a tabletop version of the classic Wurlitzer. For $169.99 you can buy one, plug it in, dock your iPod in it, and behold, you have the iJuke. Rock on.
This marriage of the latest music technology with the classic Wurlitzer set me to thinking. Music and music technology sure have changed. I was just 15 when music technology impressed me the first time. My cousin showed me his car, a used Mercedes. The fact that it was a Mercedes didn’t impress me. No, what impressed me was the fact that his car had a record player in it. It sat in the dash where a floating turntable played 45 RPMs. How it played jouncing along a washboard dirt lane baffles me to this day. I suspect that player scratched many a record.
It was like cutting through steel. I had to get out my electric Black & Decker scissors to cut through the hard clear plastic that entrapped brand new remote-controlled helicopters for my grandsons from North Carolina. That plastic is as tough a substance as I’ve come across, a sort of flexible clear steel. As I cut the helicopters free, I thought, “Man, we had nothing like these when I was a boy.”
And then I went back to the days when toys encased in hard, clear plastic didn’t exist. I went back to the days when we made toys.
As a kid, nothing thrilled me more