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Number of posts: 199
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Posts by Tom Poland:
you can't make this up
You can drive by a place 1,000 times and be unaware of its history. Such was the case for a small country store on Highway 378 in Edgefield County. Over the years I’ve passed the little store you see with this column 1,000 times and not once did I stop. That changed Sunday, October 13. I did pass it but I turned around, curious to see what the price of gas was on the old rusty pump, leaning like an old man with a cane.
I must have been around eight when Uncle Carroll handed me a shard of metal. I couldn’t believe what was in my hands. That jagged piece of silver metal, the skin of an aircraft, was about the size of a postcard but in my mind it was big. Really big. A jet had crashed in northeast Georgia and Uncle Carroll had retrieved a piece of it. Holding a remnant of a fighter jet in my hand was one of those moments I’d carry the rest of my life. That torn metal might as well have come from an alien spacecraft. I held it and marveled. “It came from a wing,” I thought.
the night life changed
People talk about life-changing events and most of the time it’s a dramatic event: An accident, a religious conversion, marriage, the onset of illness, the birth of a child, and such life changes generally affect people right away. Sometimes, though, it’s an event whose life-changing implications lie far off in the future. You just can’t know the path fate has chosen for you. And sometimes the change targets a select group of people.
I had heard such places existed but had never seen one. Now I was just two miles from seeing one. Just off I-26 near Ridgeville, South Carolina, I began to see signs. I followed them, took a side road, and the place came into view. Time for a deep breath. Old photographs of Nazi concentration camps came to mind. It was an illusion, of course, created by the way the old cabins sit shoulder to shoulder. Dark clapboards, rusty tin roofs, and stark chimneys strengthened the impression.
Charleston’s sweetgrass basket weavers are legendary. They are as much a part of the Lowcountry as she crab soup, Spanish moss, sea oats, and a crashing surf line. Their baskets please the eye with their symmetrical lines and khaki and tan patterns. A princely sum will buy you a basket but if you think spending $1,195 for a hand-woven basket is too much, hold on for a bit. There’s much to know about that basket and all that goes into it. For starters a rich history attends sweetgrass baskets.
saving a species
In 1980 I wrote a fifteen-minute film script about a subject most people give little thought to: sand dunes. The stars of this natural history documentary were sea oats, pelicans, shorebirds, and loggerhead sea turtles. The goal? Show people how important sand dunes are to wildlife and man. Because of scheduling issues and bad weather, however, a vital part of the film never got shot. Sand Dunes: Guardian of the Coast hit the screen without its true stars, child prodigies you could say.
pit cooked over hickory
One day when you’re starving for traditional pit-cooked BBQ make the drive to Jackie Hite’s Barbecue just off Highway 23 in Leesville, South Carolina. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you park by the tracks and smell the delicious aroma emanating from hogs sizzling over hickory coals. Look for plumes of smoke back of Hite’s wide white restaurant. Inside look for the patriarch of pork, Jackie Hite
a half-day off.
For a long, long time most stores down South have closed at noon Wednesdays. Mexico has its siestas and we have Wednesday afternoons. Closed at noon Wednesday. It’s a custom praised by insightful folks as a more civilized way to live, a way to give everyone a half-day off. All my life I’ve known that Wednesday afternoons were sacred in towns of all sizes. Round about noon places close and the infamous old slow Southern life style crawls to a stop.
small town america is dying
The small town is hailed as a place where values and virtues die with the greatest of reluctance. Mayberry comes to mind. It was a sleepy little town where good people and memorable characters lived. The Lincolnton and Lincoln County I remember from the 1950s and 1960s had the Mayberry touch. Folks who long for the Lincolnton and Lincoln County of the 1950s and 1960s can still have it. “Vintage Lincoln County,” a Facebook page shows familiar places and people long gone. Its creator, Garnett Wallace, refers to it as a “community scrapbook.”
that southern classic
Like the red poinsettia, the red, ripe tomato comes to us by way of Mexico by way of Peru … except that it starts out green. And it’s not a vegetable. It’s a berry, a beloved berry. Botanical correctness mandates that you refer to the tomato as a fruit and being pulpy with edible seeds classifies it as a berry.
There’s something about being a writer that leads people to confide in me. Think about that. Why tell a writer, a person who uses life itself as raw material, your deepest secrets. But tell me they do, and sometimes their secrets break my heart.
Through my writing and books, I meet a lot of people. Some become friends. I’ve come to know women who confided in me just how much they hated their father. They had reason. So they say. Several told me…
Shoals, Smoke & Spirits
Early Thursday, May 30. Robert Clark and I strike out on day two of our western South Carolina explorations. As I drive into Carolina we’re both quiet, thinking.
“Her sun went down while it was yet day,” Jeremiah 15:9. I couldn’t get that epitaph out of my mind. Nor could I forget the photos a woman showed me on a bluff overlooking the Calhoun Mill damn the evening before. Wearing a two-piece yellow swimsuit laying bare the requisite tattoos she walked over, more than a trace of beer on her breath.
Rendezvous with History
With a few holes to fill in our new book Robert Clark and I headed to western South Carolina Wednesday, May 29. We went directly to Lincolnton where we used sister Brenda’s home as a base camp. After a visit with my mom we set out for McCormick. As soon as we turned off Highway 220 onto 378 the sky turned a menacing yellow. Soon the smell of burning woods filled the car and Robert spotted a cloud a bit different from the rest.
It Was Good Enough For Folks Like Annie
I left the Empire State of the South the day after Mother’s Day and headed to the Palmetto State. The border, mere minutes away, brought to mind the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky.”
“Goin’ to Carolina … won’t be long til I’ll be there.”
Interactive Journalism At Its Most Delicious
Last Thursday, just before I took my daily two-mile run/walk hunger struck. A few bites of watermelon did the trick. When I bit into that cold sweet watermelon a flood of summer memories rushed in. I recalled the great tastes of summer and with those memories came warm images of youth in the Georgia countryside. I saw stacks of dark green, striped watermelons, red, ripe tomatoes, and heard the beautiful grinding of a hand-cranked ice cream churn. Recalling the great tastes of summer I thought will make a good column.
Enough Is Enough
None other than the Harvard Business Review reports that the ability to communicate is the number one trait top executives possess. The ability to communicate trumps ambition, education, sound decisions, and a capacity for hard work. It’s too damn bad the folks on top can’t delegate their talent.
Way too many business people cannot write. How well I know. My eyes glaze over at their attempts. Check out most corporations’ mission statements and you’ll need a café latte with an extra shot of espresso. Here’s a snoozer for you:
SC Writers' Essays
Your favorite place … For many it would be home, that safe harbor we have shaped to our own needs and likes, that refuge from the world’s ills, stresses, and bothers. Home makes for an easy choice. Suppose, however, an editor asked you what your favorite place is other than your home, and what if she said, “Write about it and we’ll put it in a book.”
That’s precisely what happened to me.
Pass The Rice Please
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” —William Faulkner
Early this spring I spent two days in ricefield country over near Georgetown. Working on a new book, Reflections Of South Carolina, Volume II, (USC Press) I went to Mansfield Plantation to time travel. Turning off Highway 701 onto Mansfield Road I hurdled three hundred years into the past.
When Folks Made Do
A crisis or two from disaster … That’s how most folks live. Modern conveniences have spoiled the self-reliance right out of us. Thanks to stores like Kroger and Publix you can get most anything you need. Ease, however, extracts a price.
We’re nowhere as self-sufficient as our grandparents were. They lived in an era when folks made do. Not us, we drive to the big box grocery stores and plop down a credit card or sign a check. That’s how we keep life moving forward. It’s a tenuous way to live.
And that meant a trip to Bud Hawes … I can’t quite place exactly where Bud Hawes’s pit-cooked barbecue operated when I was a kid but I still see the place. I know it was close by the telephone office off South Peachtree. My sister, Deb, tells me a parking lot covers the spot. What a shame.
When I was a boy Saturdays were special and not because school was out. No, they were special because…
You didn’t have to plug it in but it worked like a charm… all you needed was sunshine. Who can forget the clothesline? Starchy, fresh, and sanitized by sunlight, the blue jeans, shorts, T-shirts, and sheets of today hang out with the clothesline no more.
Today’s jeans, Ts, and sheets tumble round and round. Throw in some synthetic fabrics and static electricity glues the whole mess together. Clothes hiss, pop, and cling as you separate them. Sometimes it’ll make your hair stand up on end.
Old South of Long Ago
Last week I spent two days in rice plantation country over near Georgetown, South Carolina. Photographer Robert Clark, friend and co-author, and I went to several old rice plantations: Mansfield, Weehaw, Millbrook, and Estherville. If you’ve never explored an old rice plantation you owe it to yourself to do so. Glimpses of the South before the Civil War are yours for the taking. It’s like walking back two- to three-hundred years.
Take Me To The River… I was down home for Easter with my family. We went to our church, New Hope. As I sat listening to a special music program it was hard not to stare at the church’s baptismal pool looming over the choir. As hard as I try to accept that pool as part of the church’s interior I cannot. While staring at it my thoughts turned to four pivotal days in a church we can never forget: the day we accept Christ, the day we’re baptized, the day we get married, and the day we lay a loved one to rest…
When I was growing up life found all kinds of reasons to send us to Augusta. Then as now we found it necessary to make many a pilgrimage to the big city but we weren’t unique. In the CSRA all roads have always led to Augusta. The city of Masters fame has long represented the center of civilization as smaller outlying communities go.
Lincoln County was home, of course, but the late 1950’s Augusta was much more—Sears, cinemas, car dealerships, and great hamburger joints in the days before Ray Kroc and his cookie-cutter McDonald’s took over.
During World War I, aerial photography sent in-flight artists scurrying to the breadline. Overnight, aerial sketches were old hat. Following the war, aerial photography, needing new markets, turned to non-military purposes and that led to a remarkable discovery. In 1930 the Ocean Forest Company of Myrtle Beach contracted Fairchild Aerial Photography Corporation to survey Horry County. Droning along, drawing eyes upward, Fairchild’s FC-2 Cabin Monoplane crisscrossed the coastal plain. What its photographer must have felt when he focused on the mysteries below.
Does Life Have A Secret Plan? … Is one’s destiny planned all along? After one too many consequential coincidences you get the feeling that something mysterious is at work. Call it fate. Call it predestination. Attribute it to God. Whatever the force it reveals your true path. Such was the case with my most memorable teacher at the University of Georgia. It was mystifying how the man kept coming back into my life … even after he died. And writing was the connection.
Before Cell Phones
What A Blessing A Simple Radio Was … In the mid 1970s I made long lonely drives up to Charleston, West Virginia for several years. A town called St. Albans to be exact and more precisely a home at 55 B 10th Avenue. My daughters, mere toddlers, lived there and once a month I made the eight-hour drive up to Wild Wonderful West Virginia to see them.
It was Woeful Woebegone West Virginia back then because my youngest girl didn’t know who I was for a while. Those trips about killed me. The visits were bittersweet: a mix of joy and heartbreak. Leaving work early around two on a Friday, I’d arrive at 10 p.m. or so and stay in a roach motel.