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Number of posts: 145
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Posts by Tom Poland:
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.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
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Last week Americans saw heavy media coverage of the death 50 years ago of President John F. Kennedy. I couldn't help but compare the aftermath and funeral of JFK with that of Abraham Lincoln, both victims of assassins. One reason this came to mind is because I had just finished a year-long project -- reading Carl Sandburg's six volume biography of Lincoln. (Altogether, it was about 2,400 pages, and that in small type. I gave myself a year to read it, and as a reward, could read a shorter book when I finished each volume.) Sandburg's massive biography is a great read, Read on →
I've been doing the grocery shopping at my place for awhile now. An arrangement that came about when 'the management' (as I sometimes call her) grew weary of me carping about the monthly food bill. So I take her’ double-dog dare’ to”… see if you can do any better, Buster” And of course, the way these kind of things always go, I couldn't. But I did learn a few things... Roger's Fine Foods (not it's real name) is one of those bigger box national grocery stores located in close proximity to Atlanta's Little Five Points area. Roger's prices were as good as anybod Read on →
I looked over and the strange fact that Pamela Kheto was driving seemed perfectly normal, even though my sole contact with her in the last ten years was a brief meeting in a parking lot where she tried to recruit me for some kind of power-grab at her church. When I looked to the front I saw we were on rough terrain. I felt the bottom scraping on large boulders, finally hitting something huge that threatened to completely tie us up, the edge of a cliff actually, but our momentum carried us up and over, teetering on the edge a Read on →