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Thunderstorm

It’s late on a summer afternoon and the temperatures have been excruciatingly hot. These are the days when you emerge from an air conditioned building and walk as fast as your heart will let you without giving you a pain in your chest to your car which has been super-heated to over 120 degrees. It’s an oven in there so you open the car door, reach in carefully, and start the car so you can turn the air conditioning on full blast for a few minutes before you get in. You don’t dare get inside immediately lest you self-combust or get a third degree burn from the steering wheel.

It’s hot. And that’s an understatement.

To the east, across the river, the entire sky has turned bluish-black like a wall of bruise. A storm is on its way in from the ocean and this worries you more than the possible heat stroke you’re going to get inside your automobile, so you venture carefully into the car (mind anything metal), roll all the windows down to blow out the hot air, and hurry home. Getting caught on the road in one of these storms will lead one to wonder why cars sold in the south don’t come with skis and a propeller because so much water is going to come pouring down you’ll think how much a boat would come in handy right about now.

The low rumbling gradually gets louder and louder. The incredibly dark cloud creeps over you, darkening the sky and giving you a feeling of excited but anxious foreboding. Soon, the wind picks up, blowing moss out of the trees and sending oak leaves flying about. It’s going to be a frog strangler.

Life in the Lowcountry is a gentle life – lazy days, warm nights, quiet moments in the swing watching the tide come in. But a Lowcountry thunderstorm is anything but gentle. It’s a raucous event; a jarring experience.

My parents taught us to have a healthy respect for thunderstorms. The story of my great uncle, whose mother stood on her porch calling for him to hurry….hurry….only to watch him get struck and killed by lightning as he galloped home on his horse served as a frequently told cautionary tale. The farm workers who were knocked out cold in the packing house when lightning hit the telephone line during tomato packing season was a perennial favorite story. If ever we started to forget, we were reminded. “Did I ever tell you about your great uncle?”

With this in mind, we had house rules when thunderstorms rolled in. We were instructed to come inside at the first sound of thunder and stay away from the windows. As the thunder got louder and louder we made our preparations, unplugging electrical appliances and getting out candles in case the lights went out. In my pre-teens my maternal grandmother, who lived in Kingstree (just a couple of hours up the road) told us about a whole series of houses there whose toilets blew up when lightning hit the sewer line. So then we had to add avoiding the bathroom to the list of precautions. You learned to use the bathroom before the storm but, if you didn’t and couldn’t hold it, you dashed into the bathroom between thunder claps and prayed that the toilet didn’t detonate while you were on it.

At the moment my parents decided the storm was close enough we all gathered in my parents’ bedroom in the center of the house, away from the chimney and the CB radio antenna. And there we waited it out, two adults and two children sitting on a bed, counting seconds between the lightning and the thunder to gauge the storm’s distance from us. 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000 we’d mutter…….

I don’t believe I was an anxious child, but I really didn’t like loud noises. So you can imagine what a thunderstorm that rolled in right over our house on St. Helena Island did for my nerves. I learned that the brightness of the lightning was a predictor of the decibel level of the thunder clap that followed. A bright flash sent me hunkering down, arms over my head, eyes squeezed shut in preparation for the crashing thunder that followed. The times when the lightning flashed at the same time the thunder rolled were enough to give somebody Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No longer a rumble, the thunder turned into an explosion. The cats went under the bed. Were it not for the security of my parents’ presence I would have been under there with them.

These days I crave a good thunderstorm. I said this once to a friend from Iowa and she got a look of horror on her face. Her thunderstorms carried tornadoes; not a friendly memory. But there’s something oddly reassuring about the rumbling of the thunder, the feeling of electricity in the air, the absolutely impressive event that a Sea Island thunderstorm can be. And then, when the onslaught ceases, there’s the lingering scent of rain in the air, the soft humidity, the steam rising off the asphalt that has baked all day in the sun.

So on my list of things that remind me of home a good thunderstorm is right up there at the top. Bring on the heat. Bring on the thunder. Bring on the feeling of home.

Picture of lightning on Lady's Island, South Carolina from eatsleepplaybeaufort.com and used with permission.

Picture of storm traveling off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina by Steve Casey from the website http://wximpact40-88.pbworks.com/

"Dr. K" - Trusted Family Doctor

On a cold fall evening in 1964 a solitary car travels south on Highway 21. The road, both eerie and beautiful in its isolation, carries the driver from town across the Beaufort River, passing over Lady’s Island and the tiny Chowan Creek bridge to the remote and sparsely populated St. Helena Island.

In the dark the driver, who travels alone, slows the car and leans forward slightly in order to more clearly see the obscure dirt road that he needs to turn onto. It is late and he is tired, but he relaxes a little when he sees the familiar landmark of the Bishops' packing house. This is where he turns to continue down a long dirt road, fields of fall vegetables on his left; moss draped oak trees and magnolia trees on his right.

Pulling up into the yard, he parks and picks up his bag of tools from the back seat – stethoscope, reflex hammer, bandages, and medications – and, with the confidence of familiarity, approaches the house and knocks on the back door. The front door is for guests and this is no guest. This is Dr. Keyserling and it is me he’s coming to see. I am three years old and I have the Measles.

Now some people say that I shouldn't be able to remember anything that happened to me at that age, but I can remember Dr. Keyserling in his white shirt walking through that back door, pulling up a chair beside me as I lay on the little sofa in the kitchen and saying, "That's a lot of spots you have". 

In today's healthcare world a visit like this seems so quaint and remote, almost foreign in its concept. Younger generations who have only ever seen doctors in an office or a hospital setting cannot conceive of the idea that a doctor would actually drive to your home to take care of you when you were sick. But that's what happened and in his book, Doctor K: A Personal Memoir, Dr. Keyserling humorously and poignantly related stories of his time as a rural doctor in Beaufort County. It is unfortunate that relative newcomers to Beaufort will never have the experience of Dr. Keyserling's down-to-earth, pragmatic style of the practice of medicine.

My childhood memories of Dr. Keyserling are of his little office on Bay Street, which looked out over the Beaufort River. Going for our shots, we entertained ourselves in the waiting room with back copies of Highlights magazines until the very starched presence of Dr. Keyserling’s nurse appeared. I was not so much afraid of Dr. Keyserling, but I was surely scared of his nurse. Looking back, I’m sure that she was an incredibly delightful person, but she was very firm and all business in her white uniform, nurse's cap, and white Clinic shoes, and I knew she wouldn’t hesitate to stick me with something if given half a chance.

Our parents didn't take us for "well checks" like parents do today. There was always purpose in our visits to the doctor – school shots or some small treatment, such as the removal of ringworm (frozen out of the bottom of my foot and followed by my mother saying, “I told you not to go outside without your shoes on”) or the stitches my brother needed when he stuck his hand through the window. Other than that, our few doctor-patient interactions always followed this pattern:

Dr. K: "How are you feeling?"

Me: "Fine."

Dr. K: "Are you eating?"

Me: "Yes, sir."

Dr. K: "Sleeping?"

Me: "Yes, sir."

Dr. K: "Do you hurt anywhere?"

Me: "No, sir."

Dr. K: Then what the heck are you doing here? You're not sick! Get out of here!" 

It could be said that Dr. Keyserling was a pioneer of conservative medicine.

To this day, I bear the scar of his work. It was late summer of my 7th or 8th year and it was time for my brother and me to get our Smallpox vaccinations. This vaccination required scratching the skin on the upper arm with a needle that had the vaccine embedded on it. In about a week the place that was scratched with the needle would scab over and in about two weeks the scab would fall off, leaving a scar. My whole generation wears these round, dime-sized scars on their upper arms.

I don't know why Dr. K. was compelled to do it, but I remember him telling me that he was going to make mine look like a butterfly. And you know what? It does. 

I grew up to be a nurse and, after graduating from nursing school at the Medical University of South Carolina, would see him in the halls of Beaufort Memorial Hospital where I had my first real nursing job. He was good to work with as long as you did things right. If you didn’t…..well, let’s just say it was worth it to do it right.

In a day and age where healthcare can be sterile and cold, driven by the dollar, and sometimes focused on the convenience of healthcare providers instead of what’s best for patients, Dr. Keyserling and the way he cared for several generations of Beaufortonians is a bittersweet memory for those of us who ever needed him. His gruff but reassuring presence when we were ill cast a feeling of security over us that is rare in medicine today. He cared about his community. He cared about his patients. And we knew it.

While he would certainly scoff at my sentimentality if he were alive to see it and would generally give me a very bad time about it, I have to say that I miss him. Technology and our ability to cure the sick and injured has vastly (and thankfully) improved since 1964 when a country doctor made a house call to a very sick little girl on St. Helena Island. But I would dare say that we were, by far, better cared for then – in every sense of the word.

Photo of Herbert and Harriet Keyserling from the College of Charleston website: jewish.cofc.edu.

An Open Letter to the Beaufort City Council

Photo: Beaufort's Waterfront Park, courtesy eatsleepplaybeaufort.com

To the Honorable Mayor Billy Keyserling and members of the Beaufort City Council,

It will come as no surprise to you that there is one more voice being added to the clamor over the potential development of “River Place” in the current parking lot by the marina. This polarizing issue is surely one that is weighing heavily on your minds. People are upset. Folks are concerned. Tomatoes have been thrown at you. Some of them are rotten.

So as a preface, let me assure you that this letter is not an attempt to engage in the melee, cast doubt on your motives, or incite the crowd. It is simply my small effort to provide one more perspective as you consider the choices available to you on this issue.

I am compelled to do this because I am a 4th generation native of the area, born in Beaufort and raised on St. Helena Island. My great grandfather, O.H. Bishop was integral to the development of truck farming enterprises on St. Helena Island and his sons and grandsons continued that legacy until the 1970s. Mayor Keyserling, our families are not related, but are connected. Dr. Herbert Keyserling was boyhood friends with the Bishop brothers, including my grandfather, O.R. Bishop, Sr. and spent many summer hours playing on the Yard Farm on St. Helena Island where my family still lives.

While I have never lived within the city limits and I currently don’t live in the area I am, in every respect, a Beaufortonian. I may not be there physically but my heart and soul are there; it is the place I go to when I need to be re-grounded to who I am and what I stand for and I do it as often as possible. It is as much a part of me as each member of my family.

It is the place I call home.

I have tried to educate myself as much as possible on the issue at hand. I’ve read the Civic Master Plan that is posted on the city’s website and believe the four core principles – Serve, Energize, Connect, Celebrate – to be relevant and, if adhered to, will promote the right balance everyone seeks between preservation and growth. While I did not vote you into office because that is not my privilege, I trust that the citizens of Beaufort have chosen representatives who will adhere to the vision set out in the Master Plan to “celebrate the waterfront” and “preserve Beaufort’s historical legacy”.

Being on the City Council of any town is a position of great responsibility but being on the City Council of a town like Beaufort brings with it an even greater responsibility. You are entrusted with caring for a whole town full of landmarks, culture, and unique architecture while also ensuring that the town remains vibrant and financially stable.

But equally as important as the stewardship you have over the physical attributes, history, and financial stability of the town is your guardianship over multitudes of memories from people who have experienced Beaufort as well as the future Beaufort experiences we want our posterities to have. You are the caretakers of whether we will continue to be able to share what we love about our home or whether it will just be a story to tell, starting with “This place used to be…”

You would never dream of razing the Verdier House in the name of progress because significant history happened there. But important personal history for many, many people has happened on the waterfront in Beaufort. It isn't written in history books and you won’t find it in a tour guide but, to each person who has their own little personal piece of history in Beaufort, it is no less important.

This is no small burden you bear.

As with anything so precious and beautiful as our town and our waterfront, people will come along who will want to exploit it for their own gain. I am not at all suggesting that this is your motivation, but developers want to make money. I’m sure they lay awake at night, giddy at the thought of what they could do if they could get their hands on the property where the parking lot sits. And if they do – if you allow them to have it to build on – will you look back in 10 years and be pleased with that decision? I honestly can’t believe you could reflect on your time in office and think to yourselves, “We did the right thing”.

Preservationists are often labeled as romantics and sentimentalists; quixotic with no sense of the realities of life. But let me be clear. I understand the need to keep Beaufort alive and well. We need people to visit and spend money in our town; our local businesses need to thrive. But there must be a better way to vitalize our city’s economy – one that doesn’t trample on our memories, our experiences, our collective desire to keep Beaufort from turning into a town just like so many other towns that have sold out in the name of progress and growth. This vitalization has been done before in Beaufort and has been done well. The rejuvenation of Bay Street and the Henry C. Chambers waterfront park are two excellent examples of how it can be done. In fact, the State Historic Preservation Office has highlighted Beaufort’s downtown as a shining example of thoughtfully planned revitalization that has attracted people and businesses while maintaining the character and charm of the city.

All you have to do is follow this pattern but to do otherwise, to destroy the original fabric of the west side of the waterfront by allowing developers to use it in the name of economic growth and revitalization will be profoundly disrespectful on many, many levels. The Pulitzer-prize winning writer Russell Baker once said, “Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things”.

I believe that your love for Beaufort is equal to mine, but I wrote in a recent blog post that I was afraid that Beaufort was at risk of being loved to death. So I am imploring you, begging you to put aside the “River Place” concept and explore other ways of enhancing the waterfront that will satisfy both the need for financial stability as well as the need for preservation of our history, our legacy, our memories, and our ability to share all of that with the future.

I believe you to be people of integrity who want to do the right thing for Beaufort and all who have a connection to it. You are bright minds who will find resources to help you carry out your stewardship in a way that will preserve the sense of place that the waterfront provides.

I know you can do it. I trust and hope with all of my heart that you will.

Most Respectfully,

Elizabeth Bishop Later

Treasures from the Ocean

We pile in the car, our beach gear in hand: a cooler of drinks, sandwiches, and snacks as well as the foundational sunscreen, beach towels, and radio. We’re on our way to Hunting Island and the kids are more than excited at the prospect of a swimming-laughing-boogie-boarding day at the beach.

Of course, I’m expected to have various and sundry other items that may be required for the random need – Tylenol for a sun glare headache, vinegar for the rare jelly-fish sting, hand-wipes since beach sand is fun but not in your sandwich. And tucked away in a side pocket of the duffle bag is a stack of empty whipped cream containers.

In case you weren't aware, whipped cream containers are an essential beach-going item because at some point everyone’s going to tire of being in the water. Eyes will start stinging from the salt, folks are going to get water-logged, and they’ll exit the surf and start wandering up and down the beach looking for shells. Just as the book you brought starts to get good, everyone’s going to come to you with fistfuls of shells and ask for something to put them in.

Whipped cream containers. Essential beach item. You can thank me later.

In reality, this is the fun part of the beach experience for me. Oh, the water is fun, fun, fun but what could be more exciting than strolling along looking to see what the sea is offering up today? There’s no telling what treasure you’ll find. It’s serendipity at its best and I defy anyone to go to the beach and not stoop over just once to pick up something alluring in the sand.

The best time for hunting shells is on an outgoing tide, when shells are left on the beach by the receding water. Hunting Island shells are generally bivalve shells such as Angel Wings, Clam shells, and Atlantic Cockle shells. And there are thousands and thousands of intriguingly tiny Pear Whelks, Ram’s Horns, Conchs, and Florida Augers – miniature shells who have their own stories to tell as they’ve been transported from place to place with the ocean’s currents. If you look closely you’ll usually see a small hole in the shell that’s created by a snail that uses its tongue to file a hole in the shell and feed on the soft creature inside. Of course, this kills the animal inside the shell and the shell eventually washes ashore.

That may have been more than you wanted to know.

If the beach-combing gods are smiling down on you, you’ll find some sea glass. Since most of us are drinking out of plastic containers these days and recycling has become more popular, sea glass is somewhat elusive but it’s still around for someone willing to spend time looking for it. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient…Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.”

Sea glass starts out as trash, usually bottles thrown into the ocean, and the sea tumbles it and tumbles it, breaking it up and wearing the shards smooth. The result: a gem from the sea. The more round and frosted a piece of sea glass is, the higher its value. And if you happen to find a piece of orange or pink glass, then the beach-combing gods were really smiling on you since sea glass in these colors is extremely rare.

There’s something beautifully restorative about strolling aimlessly down the beach, looking for a treasure to take home with you. In many ways, it feels like visiting a guest who graciously sends you home with a little goodie. And years later, when your grown children find the box of collected shells they’ll remember what it was like to play at the beach all day. They’ll hear the waves and the seagulls, feel the sunshine and the salty breeze, reminisce over romping around in the surf, and think to themselves, “Now, that is a beautiful memory”.

For ideas on how to preserve your shell collecting memories, visit our Pinterest board:

Remembering Your Trip to Beaufort, South Carolina

Picture of shells on the beach: Credit Krista Franzese and used with permission from eatsleepplaybeaufort.com

All other pictures: Credit Elizabeth Bishop Later

My Love Letter to Beaufort

"Just leave it up to you and in a little while

You're messin' up my mind and fillin' up my senses."

(Dolly Parton)

Last night I woke up thinking about you. This happens to me on a disturbingly regular basis. One moment I’m minding my own business sleeping, say, as happened to me last night or doing something I need to focus on like work or laundry or deciding between 45 or 60 watt light bulbs at Home Depot and suddenly, from nowhere, here you come.

You and I have separated, amicably of course, so we no longer spend every waking moment together as we used to. Many years ago I made a youthful decision that this was best because it seemed that there were others that had so much more to offer than you did; you graciously accepted my decision. You were holding me back, you and your small town ways. It wasn’t that you weren’t good for me but Destiny was calling to me, telling me that if I was going to accomplish anything in life I needed to be somewhere else. Now I know that Destiny cannot always be trusted and may have lied just a little.

And now, many years later and many miles away, I find myself suddenly and inexplicably staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night or hesitating in Aisle 14, caught up in an unbidden memory of you. A feeling of security. The scent of pluff mud. The sound of cicadas on a muggy summer evening. I’m sure that little ache in my chest is probably just a result of the dark chocolate salted caramel mousse I finished off my Olive Garden dinner with.

Now that I’m older and wiser I see that my youthful decision to seek broader horizons was made with an equally youthful unawareness of future consequences. I could not foresee that one small decision to live far away from you for a brief time would lead to a lifetime of living far away from you. As someone once said, “It’s best that we can’t see the future. We probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning”.

I hope, though, that you don’t think that just because I moved along in my journey that I’m still not madly in love with you. Au contraire. There’s so much of you that is engrained in me, runs in my blood, fills my thoughts. How could I be anything but totally enamored? I hope you recognize that my love for you is displayed in sharing you with my children, telling stories about you, preserving you in pictures, ensuring that we have Frogmore Stew on special occasions.

Your simple ways taught me that the real pleasures in life are sitting on a swing with a loved one, watching the tide come in or the sun set. Your sense of history and place instructed me in the importance of heritage and remembering that who we are is made up of everything and everyone that came before us. Your lively and sometimes noisy military activities taught me patriotism and an appreciation for those who fight to protect our freedoms.

A walk down a dusty dirt road in the evening under arching trees, a salty breeze from the creek, a choking and coughing spell from a lung full of beach water, sitting patiently (and sometimes impatiently) on the Woods Memorial Bridge as its span slowly, slowly, turns to open and close....these are the things I love about you.

And there are other things I love about you that are now only memories, my ability to recreate them unfortunately impossible: wandering in the bookshelves of the little library on Craven Street, waving at Santa Claus during the Christmas Parade, shopping for a birthday present with my grandmother at Edwards on Bay Street.

There are many who have discovered how easy it is to love you. They come from all over, from big cities and small towns, from snowy climes and western reaches. For most it was love at first sight so they stayed to sit and stare at you, stars in their eyes, their hearts bursting with puppy love. Others only come to visit but their infatuation is no less evident or compelling.

I don’t doubt their passion for you, although sometimes I’m afraid that they might love you to death. I only know that mine is a different endearment, one born from our shared experiences: the times when I was frustrated with you for being so provincial, the times when I was fearful for you as I watched a hurricane churning off the coast, the times when my 14 year old teenage self was so bored I thought I would die, the times when you provided a lovely sea breeze and a pelican gliding across the water to add to the magic of a date that ended with a walk on the waterfront.

So at night when all the tourists have gone to their rooms, the traffic on Carteret Street has subsided, the gift shops on Bay Street have turned their signs, and the dark windows of the boats at the marina signify that everyone has gone to bed, I want you to know that I am awake and thinking of how much I love you.

And I am hoping that you still love me, too.

Photo of Iwo Jima flag raising ceremony is public domain. Credit: Lance Cpl. MaryAnn Hill

Symbols of Home

One of the many unique things about living in South Carolina is the sweeping use of the South Carolina State Flag symbols to represent our connection to home. I've done a little research and I can't find any other state where the symbols on the flag have become so commonly used. 

(Of course, poor Virginia never had a chance - their symbol illustrates someone in a toga stepping on some poor soul. Imagine that on your koozie or the back of your car.) 

Nevertheless, the symbols on our flag connect all of us as South Carolinians. Once, when we lived in Idaho, someone passed me on the highway honking and waving like my car was on fire. "What in the world....?" I thought - until the car passed me and I saw that they, too, had a South Carolina decal on the back of their car. I'm surprised we didn't pull over and start hugging each other.

Symbols are important in a culture. They're intentionally crafted to spark a feeling within us when we see them. The symbols on our State Flag, now used so frequently on the back of our cars (and on shirts, plastic cups, Christmas ornaments, backpacks, etc., etc.), were chosen because they illustrated ideas that all South Carolinians at the time could connect with. Originating in 1775, the blue of the flag represented the color of the uniforms worn by soldiers at the time. The crescent (no, it isn't a moon) represented the silver emblem worn on their caps. It wasn't until 1861 that the palmetto tree was added to commemorate Colonel William Moultrie's valiant defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan's Island against the British Fleet in 1776.

But symbols are funny things. They originate, as did the symbols on our State Flag, to connect us to a shared experience. But as soon as we see the symbol our imaginations, fueled by our own feelings, experiences, and perceptions, start turning it into something uniquely personal. It becomes special to us because we connect to it in a very intimate way.

I love the history of our State Flag symbols and put the decal on my car as a reflection of my pride in being a native South Carolinian. But it means so much more to me than that. The palmetto tree and crescent say "home". When I see it I am flooded with memories and feelings. I'm sitting in a swing on the waterfront in Beaufort on a summer evening; I'm wading in Wallace Creek on St. Helena Island with my grandmother. I can taste the shrimp burger at The Shrimp Shack and smell the decadent chocolatey scents of The Chocolate Tree. I'm at the beach, where I can hear the seagulls fighting over my cheese puffs. The mockingbirds are singing on a beautiful spring day, perched in a blooming dogwood tree or azalea bush.

The use of the South Carolina State Flag symbols in our everyday life on our everyday objects says "we love our home".

And isn't that the truth?

The Mud in Our Souls

The Chowan Creek bridge that links Lady's Island and St. Helena's Island is a landmark to me. First, it was the spot where, on our way to school on chilly winter mornings, we could turn the heater on in the car because the distance from home to the "little white bridge" was enough for the engine to warm up sufficiently to provide heat. And second, it's where you can get a good whiff of the smell of home.

One day, as we drove to St. Helena Island across the Chowan Creek bridge I rolled the window down. One of my children asked me what I was doing. "Smelling the mud", I said.

My children, as do most folks from the Lowcountry, understand that the smell of pluff mud is the smell of home so they indulged the sudden breeze in the car so we could infuse the car with the aroma of home. 

Without getting into a marine biology lesson, the ecosystem of salt marshes is a rich and variant world that thrives on the salt water flooding and draining that occurs with the tides. The marsh grass (technically, cord grass or spartina) is the main player, providing erosion control, a little filtration of pollutants, and home for all kinds of coastal critters. The other day I read a blog post from a New Mexico native who wrote "I recently visited South Carolina and learned that people eat oysters that grow in mud". She went on to say, "It's possible it was a tourist trick, but other people were eating them too, I swear".

Bless her heart. 

At any rate, it's the decomposition of the dead marsh grass that creates pluff mud. The soil that marsh grass grows in is muddy and full of peat, which is made of all that decomposing plant matter. Because it's waterlogged, peat is very spongy and soft. And because it's made mostly of decaying organic matter and spends a great deal of time under water, it has very little oxygen in it. That lovely scientific process creates the distinctive sweet and acrid aroma that some describe as a rotten egg smell but Lowcountry folks describe as the smell of home.

Enough science.

The best word to describe pluff mud is probably "gooey". It's a slick, mucky substance that dries hard on your shoes, stains your clothes, and has led to more than one slip and fall into the water. (Watch those oysters. You know - the ones that grow in the mud.)

If you're heading out in the john boat for a little ride on the creek, it's best to sacrifice a pair of old tennis shoes to be your mud mucking shoes because once you step in pluff mud it's never coming off your shoes. And speaking of shoes, I sure wish I had a nickel for all the shoes that people have lost when they stepped in pluff mud, sank in up to their knees, and lost a shoe trying to get out. Trust me - I've lost my share.

Some people have gotten very creative with pluff mud. There are products out there ranging from t-shirts that are screened and dyed using pluff mud, products to make you look younger, and beer. As a disclaimer, I'm pretty sure the beer doesn't actually contain pluff mud, but I'm open to new ideas.

So once you've stepped in it, smelled it and, believe it or not, eaten out of it, the iconic pluff mud sticks with you - both literally and figuratively. Who knew that something so icky, so tenacious, and so smelly could be so loved. 

I probably speak for all Beaufortonians when I say that our favorite days are hot sunny days - days to sit on the porch and sip a cool drink or hang out at the beach and listen to Chairmen of the Board sing Carolina Girls or Beach Fever. Those are the days we can go out and haul in some shrimp for supper or take a dip in the creek after lolling about in a boat all afternoon. Is there anything better than swinging at the waterfront on a warm, humid summer evening or walking out of a building chilled by a blasting air conditioner into the sultry heat of a hot afternoon? Rain on those days usually comes in the form of a late afternoon thunderstorm - a gradual crescendo of thunder that leads into a commotion of lightning and torrential rain.

But I should like to take a moment and extol the virtues of a cool, rainy day in Beaufort. While it doesn't lend itself to sun worshipping activities, these days have their own merit. 

When compared with the aggressive rain of a summer thunderstorm, this rain is almost caressing in its nature. The soft patter of raindrops is so soothing; I find myself becoming more reflective and introspective. As opposed to the bright, glaring light of those other days, the light becomes a little flossy and misty, as if we've woken up in a Monet painting. This one, in particular, reminds me of a rainy day on the Sea Islands.

Whatever the temperature, I find myself opening the windows a little so I can hear the rain. My father always loves to hear rain on the awnings; says he never sleeps so well as on those nights when he can fall asleep as the raindrops tap-tap-tap on the metal over the windows.

So while I love a hot sunny day in Beaufort I love, equally as much, a cool rainy day in Beaufort. It's an opportunity to enjoy homemade vegetable soup and find a place to watch the misty rain fall on the marsh, the herons and egrets begrudgingly doing their fishing while the frogs sing their happy songs.

There are plenty of gloriously long, sultry days to come and we'll take advantage of those days in our Lowcountry way. But on those days, perhaps, we'll wish for just a few moments of that soft rain that comes this time of year - each little raindrop reminding us that enjoying a water-color day in Beaufort is just as nice as spending a day at the beach.

Painting of "Morning on the Seine in the Rain" by Claude Monet, 1898.

Photo of raindrops on moss by Sonny Bishop,

Photo of boats on the Beaufort River by Brittney Porter Later.

Photo of Woods Memorial Bridge from the waterfront on a rainy day, courtesy of EatSleepPlayBeaufort and used with permission.

Mr. and Mrs. Lipsitz

This is Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lipsitz who ran Lipsitz Department Store on Bay Street in downtown Beaufort for.....well....a really long time. They have the distinct honor of introducing me (as well as many other people my age) to my first pairs of shoes. In 2009 they closed their store after many, many years of serving the little town of Beaufort and even now when I think of it I become very nostalgic over it.

In the 1960s, when I was a little girl, there were two places to buy shoes in Beaufort. One was Lipsitz Department Store; the other was Schein's Department Store just down the street on Bay. Lipsitz was our shoe store. We knew them. And they knew us. In those days we bought three kinds of shoes: church shoes, school shoes, and play shoes. One pair each. In the 1960's in our little hometown there weren't a lot of choices, but we didn't know what we were missing so we were quite happy with what we got.

To add to the atmosphere, the store was graced by the presence of Lippy, the mynah bird who had two phrases: "Where's Joe?" and "Stride Rite, Stride Rite". From his perch in his brass cage he supervised my shoe-buying experience. And what a process it was!

First, I would climb up on the raised red vinyl chair and have my foot measured - by a real person who did nothing all day but sell shoes. That was exciting. Who knew how much bigger my foot would be than last time? The old shoe was removed and my sock foot was placed in the metal sliding foot-measurer (technically called a Brannock Device, but metal sliding foot-measurer is so much more fun to write). It seems like there was no back room for this store. All the shoe boxes were stacked on shelves, under chairs, and in corners. Somehow they always knew where to find the shoes in your size, though. They had their own organizational system but it worked for them.

A pair of shoes would come back in the right size and a great deal of checking for fit would happen. The sales person would squeeze my foot, use a thumb to feel for my big toe ("wiggle your toe" he'd say) and watch carefully as I walked away and back again. Then the same process would happen all over again with the other shoe. They would never in their lives let a child get out the door unless both shoes had been tried on and fitted.

The store had a big, plastic red goose on the counter - symbol of Red Goose Shoes which everyone wore, unless they were wearing Keds, Stride-Rites, or Buster Browns. Once the shoes were chosen and paid for, Mr. or Mrs. Lipsitz would let me pull the big Red Goose's neck and out would pop a golden plastic egg with a prize inside. I'm sure they were only supposed to let me do it if we actually bought a pair of Red Goose Shoes, but I don't ever remember a trip where I didn't get to pull the goose's neck.

Before they closed their doors for the last time I took the opportunity to visit with them in the store. They were as fun and smiley as ever. It seemed that nothing had changed. The shoe boxes were still everywhere and the red goose, though retired to a top shelf, was still alive and well. The mynah bird seemed to be the only thing missing.

I actually feel sorry for children these days. Their parents buy their shoes at Payless or Walmart and what a shame for all the little ones who will never know the excitement of sitting in that red vinyl chair or the thrill of pulling the goose's neck.

So to Mr. and Mrs. Lipsitz, I say thank you.

Thank you for caring that my growing feet had shoes that fit right.

Thank you for giving me sweet memories of something as simple as buying a pair of shoes.

And thank you for being such a lovely, unforgettable part of my childhood.

God bless.

Picture of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lipsitz - photographer unknown

Picture of Lipsitz Department Store, 1966 from the photo gallery at Eat Sleep Play Beaufort (www.eatsleepplaybeaufort.com) - used with permission.

In Living Color

To edit or not to edit? That is the question.

The celebrated photographer, Ansel Adams, once said:

"There are no rules for good photographs. There are only good photographs."

If that's true, and I believe that Ansel Adams knew what he was talking about when it came to photography, then those on both sides of the question about whether or not edited pictures of Beaufort are appropriately capturing the authenticity of the place are correct.

To catch you up: There's a wealth of beautiful pictures of Beaufort and the surrounding area available on the internet, particularly on the Facebook pages and websites related to Beaufort. All of them capture the essence of what the photographer wanted to show others about the lovely place we call home. Not all came right out of the camera; some have had some editing done. Some have had A LOT of editing done. Recently, there's been an interesting online discussion about people's preferences for edited versus unedited, a debate which I have abstained from participating in, even though I have an opinion. My opinion isn't important. To each his own and who am I to say what is art and what isn't? I can't even draw a stick figure.

It's interesting to note, however, that this is not a new dilemma introduced by computer technology and the availability of editing software to anyone who has a camera. This argument has been around for over 150 years. 

You see, the dispute over editing photographs actually started with the advent of daguerrotypes in the 1850s. People loved daguerrotypes but they got bored fairly quickly and wanted the photograph to show more realistically what the subject really looked like. And thus the process of hand-tinting daguerrotypes was born. The public loved it.

But not everyone was a fan. Francis Wey, the French writer and photography critic (1812-1882) wrote that hand-colored photographs were "vulgar productions of commerce....It's forcing nature to lie". 

On the other hand, the French Society of Photography was in favor of editing with brushes and colors and made a statement in the 1850s about it: "Photography has two goals and two ambitions: 'Art and Science'. Some cry fraud; austere priests of photographic virginity, even at the sound of the word retouching, cover their faces and wear mourning for their defiled vestal."

(I actually laughed out loud when I read the phrase "photographic virginity". Is that really the way people talked in 1854?)

So I was intrigued when I found this book in a local book store. Using computer colorizing technology and a gentle, thoughtful hand, John Guntzelman has taken black and white photographs captured by Matthew Brady and other renowned Civil War photographers and brought them to life - a process which took nearly four years.

I was amazed at the feelings I had as I looked through the pictures - pictures I had seen many times before but in black and white. I was startled by the intensity of Major General George E. Pickett's light green eyes. I more clearly saw the years of strain showing on the faces of freed slaves from Foller's Plantation in Virginia.

I was especially pleased to find that Guntzelman had chosen this picture of General Isaac Stevens and his staff to include in his book. The photograph was taken on the porch of a house in Beaufort soon after the Union occupation of the city in November, 1861. The familiar light of a late fall day in Beaufort, the vibrant green of the shutters, and the earnestness on the faces of the men (which does not translate as well for me in the black and white photograph) was like time travel.

I imagine that digital manipulation of photographs will remain a hotly contested topic. People will continue arguing their preference for natural versus edited. But for me, at least in this case, using computer technology on these pictures has done nothing but help me appreciate just a little more the human side of the Civil War. These were real people, a fact easily forgotten in the grainy two-tone originals. And perhaps it's good for us to be reminded of that.

Daguerrotype from www.photographymuseum.com

All other photographs from the book, "The Civil War in Color" by John C. Guntzelman

Love for Therapeutic Riding - Making a Difference

When I was a little girl I was just like every other little girl. I loved horses. I didn't have one, so I pretended that things that could be straddled were horses - the arm of the sofa, my large doll house crafted by my father, or an aptly named construction horse. The idea of riding a horse fueled my imagination and I could fancy myself galloping on my noble steed, hair blowing in the wind, the two of us connected through that special bond that only a little girl can have with a horse.

The summer we were ten years old my cousin, Angie, and I were visiting a restored farm in Pocataligo near Yemassee. We were allowed to hand feed a mare in a corral and I was, quite honestly, in horse heaven. She was so gentle and loving; so appreciative of the food we were giving her. I looked into her big brown eyes and felt that we were really connecting, that horse and me.

And then, for no apparent reason, that horse reached over and bit me on the neck.

I want to be clear about this. This was no gentle nibble or playful flutter of her whiskery lips. This was a full-on chomp designed to inflict maximum harm. Fortunately, I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye and was able to draw back slightly so I wasn't seriously injured (although from the sound of my cousin's screams you would have thought I'd been killed). When the dust settled and the damage was assessed I was found to have two injuries. The first was a giant horse hickey, which I soon recovered from. But the other more serious injury was a fear of horses that I have never recovered from. I still love the idea of horses but I always prefer to have a little distance between us.

I gave up the dream of being a horse person.

But Denise Bishop hasn't given up her life-long love affair with horses even though I know she's been bitten, stepped on, kicked, shoved, and generally roughed up by many horses on many occasions.

And thank goodness for her tenacity, because that love for horses has compelled her to become involved with therapeutic riding, through which she has made an enormous difference in the lives of many people with special needs and their families. In 2009, after several years of involvement with Heroes on Horseback, she started Love for Therapeutic Riding, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to use horseback riding to provide unique therapeutic techniques for people with special needs.

Working from her Sunshine Stables on the Yard Farm on St. Helena Island, and using a completely volunteer staff (even the certified instructors volunteer their time), Denise uses three trained horses to provide a unique approach to therapy. This therapy enables people with conditions such as Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and Attention Deficit Disorder to improve their balance, coordination, and posture. Information about the physical benefits of this therapy can be read here.

The horses seem to sense that great care must be taken with these special riders and, even though safety precautions are always in place, the horses are gentle, perceptive, and calm while working. And while the physical benefits of this therapy cannot be oversold, there is certainly something equally therapeutic about the bond that forms between the horse and its uncommon rider. Self esteem and confidence grows and children who have perhaps experienced social misfortune because of their disabilities find that they are immediately accepted by the large, gentle animals. Sir Winston Churchill said it best: "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man".

Of course, we must include Duke the Donkey in this narrative. Rescued from a shelter where he was abandoned in the middle of the night, Duke is every bit a part of the loving culture at Sunshine Stables; a long-suffering soul who can make you feel better just by letting you love on his big, fuzzy donkey ears. While Duke doesn't provide therapeutic rides, he offers his own brand of curative interaction that lets you know he's present and attentive to whatever needs you have that he can help with.

Denise is always looking for people who have a love for horses and a desire to make a difference to volunteer with her. If you're interested in volunteering time or making a donation, you can visit the organization's website: www.lovefortherapeuticriding.org or email her at [email protected]

Thoughts on the Happy Boat

Driving over the Woods Memorial Bridge into Beaufort provides a picture of all that is fine about Beaufort. To the left lies the waterfront and marina, its sailboats resting in the soft swells of the river. The seawall and Old Point homes lie to the right, stationary cannons reminding us of the city's Civil War history. The spires of St. Helena's Episcopal Church and the Beaufort Baptist Church stand tall, icons of history and faith. The tide - incoming or outgoing - provides a constantly changing picture of sandbars and shorebirds. It's a beautiful sight - all that is right about Beaufort.

And then, of course, there's the Independence (fondly called the Happy Boat at our house), which showed up in Factory Creek a couple of years ago and people wondered, "what the heck"? In the beginning it was unadorned then the smiley face appeared. It was quite the mystery for a while until the owner, Bill Slachta, cleared up the conundrum. (You can read that story here.)

The other day the wind blew it into the Factory Creek dock; for another brief moment the Independence was in the news. And then the fight started. Well, not really a fight, but certainly a healthy debate between those who have learned to embrace its presence and those who hate it haven't quite come to terms with it. They expressed their opinions about the watercraft in short phrases ending with double exclamation points. It's an eyesore!! Get rid of it!! Fine the owner!! You could practically smell the smoke from the torches and hear the clanging of the pitchforks. I guess for those folks it just doesn't fit with their idea of "Beaufort" and what "Beaufort" should be.

So, for what it’s worth, here's my perspective.

Beaufort is a beautiful place with a whole continuum of southern experiences to enjoy, from carriage tours around the Old Point to fine food on Bay Street. Bed and Breakfasts provide the perfect step back in time, giving visitors a little taste of the historic, romantic south they come to savor. It’s a perfect environment for social butterflies to get their fill of oyster roasts, nights on the town, and cocktail parties.

But that's what's on the surface. Look underneath and you'll find hometown people with humble roots – farmers, shrimpers, the salt of the earth. You'll find our military, protecting us and inspiring us with their patriotism and love of country. You'll find people whose idea of a day on the river is dragging the john boat to the river shore and launching off, a 10 horsepower motor putt-putting them to the nearest sandbar where they can dip an old rotten chicken neck in the water and catch some crabs for supper. You’ll find a quiet current of simplicity and humility.

While I love everything about Beaufort - it's romantic southern image, it's antebellum homes, it's draw for tourists - the real Beaufort I love is a simple, unpretentious place - a place of dusty dirt roads and steamed okra, church suppers and family, the acrid smell of pluff mud and the incessant sound of cicadas. For those of us who grew up in Beaufort the sparkly shine provided to tourists is just that - sparkly shine - but doesn't wholly reflect all that we love about Beaufort.

For me, the Independence is, in its own way, completely representative of the place I call home. Its straightforward, transparent message is "Hey, I'm not very pretty but I can take you out on the river and we can go shrimping and swimming and spend a whole summer afternoon getting a beautiful sunburn together”. Maybe I'm partial to it because my dad built his own boat once, then sold it after its maiden voyage presented so much anxiety for my mother that he realized its destiny was not to be the watercraft he envisioned. It wasn't much prettier than the Independence, but nobody in Beaufort complained about those kinds of things in 1975.

The river is there for all to enjoy, whether you have an expensive yacht or a dinghy; a 30 foot sailboat or a hand-made ark with a smiley face painted on the side. As Matthew Goldman wrote, "One takes what the river offers, both good and bad. The joy of living by running water far outweighs the sorrow."

So the next time you're driving across the bridge, try to accept that everything you see represents something that makes Beaufort a wonderful place - the church spires, the antebellum homes, the expensive yachts at the marina, the Old Point - and the Happy Boat.

Bomb Scare

Sonny Bishop loves to tell stories - and people love to listen to them. Here's one we thought you might like:

When I worked at Beaufort Academy in administration, we would get an occasional bomb scare by telephone. We followed the planned routine, called local law enforcement, and pulled the fire alarm to get everyone outside.

One of my chores was to go around with two deputies and unlock 400 lockers with a master key. I would get blisters every time.

We never had a bomb, but we did have a scary moment. One of the deputies found a metal can in one locker and was inspecting it carefully while I stood to the side. Both deputies and I were looking at it wondering if it was dangerous. One deputy noticed it had a screw off top and carefully began to unscrew it. I started backing up as he started unscrewing the top. As soon as it was loose, something shot out of the can and scared all three of us. There was no loud boom, no smoke, but on the floor was a Jack in the Box doll with a spring attached. It took several minutes before we recovered enough to think it was funny.

The Bridge

While perusing Facebook today, I found a discussion going on about the Woods Memorial Bridge over the Beaufort River. The premise of the original post was that it was a lovely part of the uniqueness of Beaufort and most people chimed in with agreement.

But there were a few comments adorned with symbols indicating some degree of profanity that clearly showed there's definitely a Love-Hate relationship with that bridge. My first thought was "why so angry"? 

But the bottom line is this: if you have all the time in the world, the bridge is a lovely place to idle away some time while a boat goes through. If you're in a hurry the bridge is not quite so lovely.

When I was little, before the McTeer bridge was built and before Lady's Island had a fire department, the Woods bridge was the only way into and out of Beaufort for those who lived on the islands. One winter a house on Lady's Island caught on fire but the bridge was stuck in the open position so the Beaufort Fire Department couldn't get to it. All they could do was watch the house burn from the bridge.

The good thing these days is that folks have a choice. Take a chance on the Woods bridge (best to leave 15 minutes early just in case) or take the safe route over the McTeer bridge. In the mid 1970s, my brother and I with a couple of our friends took a walk one evening up the McTeer bridge before it was completed and sat on the edge of the construction. The bridge was complete up to the very middle of the bridge which allowed us the opportunity to sit at the highest point of the bridge and dangle our feet over the Beaufort River. We shouldn't have been there. I know that now. But it sure was fun.

I would say that I have more of a loving relationship with the bridge than anything else. When you see the bridge you know you're home. It makes Beaufort unique and beautiful. Yes - every now and then you're going to wait and Murphy's Law says that it's going to be when you're in a hurry.

But really, isn't this worth it?

Photos courtesy aikenhdr.com and historicbridges.org.

Home....and leaving it

As I've said before, Utah is my current place of exile from South Carolina. The job is in Utah. My heart is in South Carolina.

Sigh.....

Recently, though, we spent a week in Beaufort doing the things we always love to do when we visit. We made frequent trips to the Chocolate Tree. We boiled and consumed several pounds of peanuts. We went to Walterboro and ate at Duke's Barbecue where I got my fill of fried okra and rutabagas. And my mother fed us tomato sandwiches on homemade bread (tomatoes courtesy of Dempsey Farms). We stood at the kitchen window and watched for porpoises in the creek.

Heaven on earth.

As I write this I'm sitting on a west-bound Southwest airplane awaiting departure from the Charleston airport. Crammed between thoughts of whether or not the tire on the landing gear will hold (our flight was delayed so the "professional maintenance man" could check it) and whether or not it's physiologically possible for sinuses to explode if you fly with a cold (because, yes, I felt that they would on the way here) are flashbacks of the days of the past week that have passed so quickly.

When we lived in Idaho I had a friend at work who was from Georgia. She told me that leaving South Carolina would always tug at my heartstrings. She was wrong. What she meant to say was that sitting on an airplane waiting to jet away from home at 500 miles an hour would be the same as fifty 200 pound men having a tug of war with those heartstrings.

So this Thanksgiving I am grateful for my Sea Island home. I am grateful for parents who established a home of love, learning, and music and who welcome me and my little army of a family back as often and for as long as possible. I am grateful for roots that go deep into the sandy soil of St. Helena Island, for memories that anchor me to the past and a Lowcountry heritage that will provide a foothold in the uncertain future. These things - as well as pictures on walls, shells in bottles on windowsills, and bookshelves full of books about the Lowcountry - will sustain me until the time I can get back on a Southwest airplane - going east.

Little Sadnesses

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is to hit the antique stores and see what I can find.

Invariably, I will stumble across the shoebox full of old photographs - some with writing on the back, some without. As I go through them I can't help but feel a little sad over these pictures.

Who are these little ones? And why didn't their families care enough about them to keep a picture of them - even if they didn't know their names? (My dad likes to remind me that some people don't like their families, which I suppose is a pretty good explanation.)  

The efforts that people went through "back in the day" to get a photo made is beyond our realm of Instagram understanding. These days, everyone's taking pictures of everything (even things they probably SHOULDN'T be taking pictures of).

But when these babies had their picture made, having your own photograph was a big deal. It cost money. They often had to travel to get to the photographer. Certainly, the mother of these children displayed this photo proudly in a prominent location in the home because it was a treasure.

And someone down the family line decided it was junk and got rid of it.

Fortunately, there's at least one other person like me who can hardly stand the boxes of old photographs in antique stores. He runs a website called Dead Fred where he posts old pictures that have something - anything - written on the back. His database is searchable and, if you find a long lost relative, you can purchase the photo.

A man after my own heart. 

Barbecue

Last year I had the flu. I'm not talking about the respiratory illness that people casually call the flu but it's just a bad chest cold. No, I'm talking about the REAL flu - the Influenza A that sneaks into your respiratory tract and starts constructing a home of nastiness that produces a fever of 103, coughing, nausea, and that generalized, unnamed feeling of "I'm pretty sure I'm gonna' die".

Fortunately, after what seemed like forever, I started to feel better but I moved from near death to total boredom - too sick still to go to work but not sick enough to lay around in bed. I was irritable. I was miserable. And I'm sure that the nice people I call family were starting to wish I'd either get better or die trying.

So in an effort to amuse myself I started thinking about food that now sounded good to eat after many days of yuck. I spent hours on the sofa surfing the internet for pictures of food that I wished someone would show up with. Coconut Cream Pie. Fried okra. And best of all - barbecue.

When it comes to barbecue we are a blended family. On my father's side we have barbecue a la Duke's with hash, rice, okra, coleslaw, corn on the cob, etc. etc. On my mother's side we have Williamsburg County barbecue - vinegar based and the hotter the better.

When my grandmother passed away we went to Kingstree to deal with her belongings. In her recipe box I found that she had written down the recipe for Williamsburg County Barbecue. What a treasure! What a find! I was so excited.......

.....until I found out that the recipe was for a 60-80 pound hog.

I was pretty sure I didn't have a pan that big. And I was pretty sure that she had never barbecued a pig of that enormity so I'm not sure why she had ever bothered to write down the recipe, but there it was along with more reasonable culinary activities such as Lunchbox Cookies and Office Sweet Potatoes.

Fortunately, I did learn something about math at Beaufort Academy so I started dividing. I got that recipe down from a 60 pound hog to a 5 pound pork butt. Without a smoker I have to cheat and use the crockpot. I've been tweaking that recipe for years, trying to get it just right and I'm pretty close, but it's not really right. It probably never will be. But if I close my eyes while I'm eating it I can almost feel that I'm back at my grandmother's house, eating the real stuff.

Oh, what I wouldn't give for one more time at the table...... 

The Library

The other day I asked someone what the best book she'd ever read was. After staring at me blankly, she said, "I don't know. I don't read. I've never been a reader".

I couldn't believe it, really. I have such a love affair with books. Perhaps it's because when I was growing up on St. Helena Island there was nobody else around my age (other than my brother) so my friends were books. They were always there. They took me to places I'd never been and introduced me to some very interesting people. And they never argued with me. 

Who could ask for a better friend?

Pictured above is the old Beaufort County library on Carteret Street, established in 1918 and moved in 1964 to Craven Street. Even though the library moved when I was three, I can still vaguely remember it. After the library moved to Craven Street, my Aunt Emma Ellen Bishop was the librarian and she always let me climb into her lap as she sat behind the big librarian's desk and help her check out books. My job was to stamp the card with the date.

I loved it.

Every Wednesday for all my growing up years, we stopped at the library on Craven Street on our way to choir practice at St. John's Lutheran Church. I learned how to use the card catalog (for anyone under 20, I suggest a Google search) and I learned that if I wanted to read story books I had to search by the author's name but if I wanted to read about volcanoes in the Philippines I had to go for the numbered section. These weekly excursions to the library instilled a passion for books into me that is, as Lionel Richie put it - endless.

Side note: The lyrics to the song "Endless Love" - all about forever and being a fool for you and all that good stuff - are really better sung than read. Why? Because a whole section of the printed lyrics goes like this:

Oooh-woow

Boom, boom

Boom, boom, boom, boom, booom

Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom

But I digress.

Everywhere I've lived one of the first things on my list to do is get a library card at the local library. There's something so peaceful about roaming among the shelves of books; so many new friends waiting to be made.

For Christmas last year someone gave me a Kindle. I thought it was pretty cool and I do use it sometimes. I can appreciate it's slim little figure and it's "give it to me now" spirit. But my preference is a real book with an eye-catching picture on the front that says "open me! read me!". I love the smell of a new book. I love the feel of it - the weight of it in my hand.

So to my friend who has never been a reader and couldn't think of the name of a book if her life depended on it, I say what are you waiting for? I'll even let you borrow my library card if you promise not to tell the librarian.

Picture courtesy of the University of South Carolina Library

http://www.libsci.sc.edu/histories/vts/vts11.html 

Favorite Things Sunday

Ah......the green tomato.....

This Sunday's favorite thing is the unassuming green tomato. Which we will soon fry.

In Utah, my current place of exile from the south, the tomatoes are "coming on" (as they say). Yes, I know that everyone in Beaufort finished eating tomatoes in mid-July but we were just starting to see little flowers on our tomato plants in mid-July, thus the September "coming on" of the tomato.

I've had a pretty good crop of tomatoes this year. Basking in the western sun they've dreamed tomato-ey dreams of turning a deep, rich red and being plucked for salsa or maybe even a little tomato-mozzarella salad.

Imagine their surprise when, at the height of their greenness I have plucked them from their branches, sliced them up, dredged them in eggs and corn meal, then fried them to a golden brown.

This wasn't what they signed up for. This wasn't in the contract. But they were purchased as baby tomato plants by a southerner (they have those in Utah?) who wants to clog up her coronary arteries with as many fried green tomatoes as she can get before the first frost comes on.

Of course, there is merit in a red tomato as well. One of my favorite memories is going to work at the House and Garden Gift Shop on Lady's Island with my grandmother and being supplied a lunch of a tomato sandwich made with luscious red tomatoes, Duke's mayonnaise, and Captain John Derst's bread. She used the bread bag as the lunch bag. 

So don't get me wrong. I love a good red tomato. How could I not? My dad was a tomato farmer and all. But if you've got a green one, let's eat it now! 

"Mrs. Matty"

(Watercolor portrait of Augusta Matteson, 1938, by her brother, Richard Morrison Lofton)

At 4:00 on any Thursday afternoon in the 1970s you could find me sitting at Augusta Matteson's grand piano at 901 Prince Street. She would be standing over me, making sure that my fingers were curved, I was following the music, and I wasn't sliding up and down the piano bench when I reached for the keys at either end of the piano.

Mrs. Matteson, or "Mrs. Matty" as her students called her, was my piano teacher from the beginning of 5th grade to the end of my senior year. In those seven years she instilled in me the discipline to play well and the tenacity to stick with working at playing well. She turned 80 years old the summer I graduated from high school.

She had good material; I loved playing the piano. She seemed to also think she had good material. A note I found recently from her said that she "found it a pleasure to teach such a talented student".

Regretfully, I appreciate that note now much more than I did when I received it.

I remember my very first lesson. At this point she was teaching in "The Studio", which was a small cottage behind her house but for some reason I had my first lesson at the grand piano in her sitting room. She sat my 9-year old, wiggly, very-excited-to-be-taking-piano-lessons self on the stool in front of the old piano and said, "You must always sit right in front of Middle C". Then she put a small music manuscript book in front of me, in which she had written a simple song for the right hand. As she showed me the notes she sang:

Let us build a house, (C, D, E, F, G)

Room for horses three, (C, D, E, F, G)

First the walls and then the roof (C, D, E, F, G, F, E)

And then the door you see. (D, C, E, G, E, C)

In the week that followed I practiced that song more than I've ever practiced anything since. Over and over and over again. I'm sure I drove my parents nuts.

My brother also took piano lessons from her so we traveled together - being dropped off by our mother after school and picked up by her an hour later. While my brother got his lesson, I did homework or read a book. I finished Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" while waiting for him and her old house was the perfect atmosphere to get completely creeped out over it. Sometimes I would venture down the street just a little bit to hunt down a doughnut at the old bakery that existed there but is now gone.

At 5:00 the neighboring Baptist Church of Beaufort's bells rang out Westminster Quarters followed by five tolls of the bell and the hymn "Now the Day Is Over". There was something very safe and satisfying about hearing those bells. (You can listen to Westminster Quarters here.)

It wasn't all fun, though. The old house was cold and kind of dark. If I didn't play right she grabbed my fingers and put them where they needed to go. She got after me if I didn't practice. She wasn't forgiving of mistakes she had corrected last week.

But I learned to play. And I learned to play well.

Mrs. Matty died in 1988 - six days after my third child was born. Once I graduated from high school I only saw her a couple of times and I regret not visiting her and playing her piano, just one more time.

But she's with me; I think she listens when I play. I'm certainly listening to her when I play. I can hear her voice correcting my technical errors. I can hear her praise at the end of a song long practiced and perfectly executed.

I like to think she's proud of her efforts in my behalf. I hope she is, anyway.

(Watercolor portrait of Augusta Matteson, 1938, by her brother, Richard Morrison Lofton)

10 things you should never say to a southerner

I've had the wonderful opportunity to live out west for a number of years and it's always interesting what people will say when they find out that I'm from South Carolina. For those of you who have had these experiences, well....you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. And I promise I'm not making these up. You can't make up stuff like this.

1. Where's your accent?

It seems that people are always disappointed not to hear a country drawl when they learn you're from the south. I tell them that, contrary to popular belief, we don't all talk like Forrest Gump or Dolly Parton. A southern accent is easy to pick up and easy to lose, so what little I had leaves me until I get around it again and then I'm back to normal. But if you listen closely you'll hear southernisms - y'all, Yes Ma'am, fixin' to, and cut off (the light, the oven, the water....). It's just not what people want so I am for the most part a grave disappointment to them.

2. Have you ever eaten squirrel?

Not that I'm aware of and if I did I think I'm better off not knowing about it. Neither have I imbibed moonshine, grilled roadkill, or choked down a chitlin'.

3. Were you a debutante?

Being a debutante requires two things: an upper class standing and an unyielding adherence to outdated social customs. In 1978, when I hit the age of being formally presented or not being presented at all, I had neither. Being escorted to Senior Prom by a guy who wore a light green tux with six inch lapels was as close as I ever got to a cotillion. But don't worry.....I don't count it as a great disappointment in my life. (The debutante thing, that is. Going to the prom with a guy in a green tux could possibly be something I'd do differently if I could do it over again.)

4. Did your grandfather fight in the Civil War?

While I can proudly boast enough ancestry to warrant a membership in the Daughters of the Confederacy, I'm afraid that my grandfather was born in 1918 - not 1818 so no, my grandfather did not fight in the Civil War. (History book anyone? Anyone?)

5. Why don't you want any of this shrimp (insert name of dish) we're having?

Because once you've eaten shrimp right out of the creek, Red Lobster just doesn't quite cut it. I'm a shrimp snob. If it didn't come off of one of the Gays' shrimp boats I will pass. Also, we're in the west for crying out loud. Steak and potatoes, please.

6. I've been to North Carolina! What's the weather like in North Carolina this time of year? Are you a North Carolina fan?

Seriously, people get the two states mixed up ALL THE TIME. It's South Carolina, folks. Just to the south of North Carolina. (And no, I'm a Clemson fan.)

7. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is one of my favorite songs.

It was also a favorite of General Sherman's troops as they tromped through the south setting everything on fire. I suppose that activities such as this would require a rousing patriotic song to buoy spirits and maintain esprit de corps. But that's OK. My mama taught me to be a lady so I'll just smile sweetly and quietly whistle Dixie as we go our separate ways.

8. Does your mother cook like Paula Deen?

Horror of horrors. Absolutely not. If she did I'd weigh 500 pounds. This is similar to the accent question. No, we are not all stereotypes in the south.

9. I tried grits once, but I couldn't put enough sugar on them to make them worth eating.

Sugar???? Heavens, no. Butter, salt, and mix them all up with your eggs. That's how you eat grits.

10. Do you miss the south?

Every second of every minute of every day.  

The Teacherage - a "Mary's Story"

Note: Mary Bishop has her own lifetime of Sea Island stories; we thought we'd share this one about the old Teacherage which is now a bed and breakfast in Beaufort called the Two Suns Inn. Also, Mary has never called her husband by the name everyone else calls him, which is Sonny. She has always called him Bishop, as you'll see below.

In the fifties, the huge population of "war babies" from World War II was just hitting the school systems, and schools everywhere were horribly overcrowded. Until Mossy Oaks Elementary was built in 1956, Beaufort Elementary had been the only elementary school for white children in northern Beaufort County. To give you an idea of how serious the overcrowding was, I had 45 children in my first fourth grade class, but at least we had a room (much too small, of course, and the whole building was in terrible need of repair.) There were classes being held in storage rooms and on the stage - everywhere, in fact.

Teachers were in great demand, and there was a major shortage of "suitable" living accommodations for all the teachers that were being hired. The Teacherage was at least a partial answer to places for the teachers to live.

Side note: Teacher qualifications were not very strict during this time period. They hired me when I'd never done a day's teaching in the classroom. All my "experience" was in teaching music, particularly individual piano lessons. Mr. Morgan Randall, who was the Superintendent of Beaufort Schools, interviewed me for the job. He had tried to teach me algebra in Kingstree, and I think he knew that I'd be conscientious, whether I knew anything about teaching or not. Mrs. Carson was the teaching supervisor, and she had all these green young women to try to turn into teachers. We were all terrified of her and her strict rules, but she made teachers out of a lot of us. Some of us were lucky enough to find some experienced teachers and learn from them. I remember Mrs. Ashley Webb, Miss Eliza Bostick, and a few others who, even though their classes were overcrowded, too, never were too busy to help us. I was also fortunate in that my class was full of well-behaved children, even though their ability level went from about first grade level to some who could read high school science textbooks and understand them I had no behavior problems all year. Sweet kids.

All teachers had to have a physical exam before they were hired, and one of the funniest parts was that we had to have good feet - no corns, calluses, etc. One of Mrs. Carson's strictest rules was that we were never to sit down when the children were in the classroom. Teachers also had to have good reputations, and in a small town like Beaufort, everybody knew everything about the teachers. (That's a subject for another dissertation.)

Now to the Teacherage:

I don't know how long the Teacherage had been in operation before I lived there in 1956, but I know it had been there for some time.

I think the Beaufort County School District owned the Teacherage on Bay Street (now Two Suns Inn), and the property included a large cottage just behind the big, three-story house. Many, if not all, the unmarried teachers lived in the two houses - thirty or more women, many just out of college as I was, but others who were almost old enough to retire. Most of the really young teachers lived in the cottage, but a few of us were in the main house.

As far as I remember, there were no private rooms - at least two to a room and in one large room on the third floor four women (I think) lived. My roommate was Miss Gertie Hammond - a lovely lady about fifty years old. (Gertie's and my room was the second floor room that was over the porch on the left side of the house.) The first floor of the main house was a living room, large dining room, and kitchen that served both the cottage and the main house.

The one thing that the Teacherage lacked was a piano, so another teacher (Kay Felder, who was also from Kingstree) and I rented one that had been converted to a "mirror" piano. Ugly, but it served the purpose. We played every day.

We had a live-in hostess (Mrs. Lake when I lived there) who lived in a small apartment just off the living room. She planned meals, supervised the cleaning of the "public" areas of the houses, and generally kept the place pretty and pleasant, etc.

Since we ate lunch at our various schools, we just had a light breakfast and a delicious supper at the Teacherage - always served beautifully on a white tablecloth with cloth napkins. We had an outstanding cook that I'm sure Mrs. Lake had hired.

Several of the teachers served on a committee to pro-rate our living expenses. All the bills (food, cook's salary, Mrs. Lake's salary, housekeeping, etc.) were collected, and at the end of each month, this committee added them and divided by the number of people living there. As I recall, we also paid a small sum for rent, but I don't remember how much it was. It was a most economical place to live. (My year's salary was $2500, and I saved $900, so you know I wasn't paying much for living expenses.)

One Sunday afternoon, Bishop helped me move my clothes into the Teacherage just before I started teaching fourth grade at Beaufort Elementary in 1956. Mrs. Lake was welcoming all of us as we came in, and she warned Gertie and me that there was a wasp nest just outside our window, and to "be careful" about opening that window. Being the helpful man he is, Bishop volunteered to remove the wasp nest, so Mrs. Lake found him a broom as a weapon. He opened the window and screen and knocked down the nest but one of the wasps stung him on his wrist. He put cold water on it, and we went on to his parents' house on Lady's Island. In just a short time, it was obvious that he was having an allergic reaction to the sting. His mother told him to go take a bath in baking soda water, but that did no good, so I volunteered to drive him to meet Dr. Keyserling. who gave him an antihistamine and adrenaline shot, which quickly began to take effect. Then I drove him back home - at night, across that scary old bridge, and with him shaking from the adrenaline.

Some introduction to living at the Teacherage.

For me, one of the advantages of living in the Teacherage was that I could stay in Beaufort during vacations when Bishop came home from Clemson and not feel like I was inconveniencing his family. A disadvantage was that when all the other teachers went away for vacations, I was by myself in that big house, and it was a little lonely at night.

During Christmas vacation, MaMa Steinmeyer (who ran a boarding house on New Street, behind the Beaufort Elementary) told me that she had an extra room at her house and "would I like to come live there?" Having lived in a dorm for four years and then in the Teacherage, I thought having a room of my own sounded like heaven, so I quickly took her up on her offer. Since I didn't have a car, I enjoyed being that close to Beaufort Elementary.

Living in the Teacherage wasn't a perfect place to live - no real privacy - but it was a safe and pleasant place, and I know Mama and Daddy were relieved not to have to worry about me. I was glad to have a chance to get to know Bishop's family before we got married, too.

We went to South Carolina

Those of us who call South Carolina home love sharing it with our children. My kids have lived in South Carolina but they've also lived out west and when they did the highlight of the year was visiting Grandmama and Papa in South Carolina.

This is Joshua who decided to write about one of his trips. Obviously, he's older now but he (and his siblings) still look forward to every chance to be in South Carolina. 

Here's his story, written when he was in 4th grade:

We were going to visit my Grandma and Grandpa in South Carolina.We got everything packed then we started to drive to South Carolina.

As we were driving it got hotter and more humid. It also made you very sleepy. I fell asleep. We drove for three days.

When we got there my Grandma and Grandpa helped us take our stuff inside. After we got all the stuff inside we talked and hugged each other.

This is my list of stuff I did on my trip.

I went to go crab fishing. I took a string and tied a dead shrimp to it because crabs like rotten shrimp. Then I put it in the water and waited for a minute. A crab hooks on it and you can pick the crab up with the string so you can see it. You can eat crabs but we don't usually do it because we eat shrimp. I liked looking at the crabs and seeing how big they are.

I swam in the water. It's pretty warm and not cold. Swimming is exciting because alligators live in the marsh and you might see one when you're swimming. We went in the boat, too. The boat is made of metal so it gets really hot. Sometimes we get the motor from my Uncle Rudy but when we don't we have to paddle with a stick (called an oar).

I climbed the dragon tree. The dragon tree is a big tree that is shaped like a dragon and my Grandma says a dragon lives under it at night. I think she said its name is Phil, but I'm not sure.

I played computer games with my cousin and watch movies like The Mummy Returns.

We stayed in South Carolina for a week and then we drove home. I didn't want to leave because it's fun, but I was pretty glad to be home and sleep in my own bed.

We will go again in the summer and I can't wait to swing in the tree, eat shrimp, and see my grandparents.

Unna bile 'em and bile 'em (A "Sonny's Story")

Back in the '60s we hired a Gullah woman from our farm labor to help out in the house and look after our two preschool children while we worked. She was an excellent cook, and told us that she worked one time for a man named Capt'n Bo Sam, a shrimp boat owner and local person of interest.

He shot a great blue heron and brought it home for her to cook. She told us:

" Unna pic dem feathers til the whole bak yaad be full. Unna cut de nek off cuz dey ain't hav a pot big 'nuf to put de bird in. Unna put de nek in de pot and unna bile an' bile em. Unna chek de meat and 'e be tough. Unna bile em and bile em sum mo'. Capt'n Sam cum in de do' and axe bout de bird. Unna tellum it be cook all dey long. Capt'n. Sam set to de tabul and unna take de nek out and win' roun' and roun’ on de plate. Capt'n. Sam look and look an' study dat nek fo' while and den say "' Gib dis nek to de dawg."' Unna sthro' the nek out de do to de dawg and dat dawg smellum and run an' hide in de woods. Unna had to bury dat nek and de bird fo' dat dawg come home. Unna tell Capt'n. Sam dat if 'e bring somp'in home lak dat 'gain, yunna cin cook fo heself."

Here's the King's English translation:

"I picked the feathers until the whole back yard was full. I cut the neck off because they didn't have a pot big enough to put the bird in. I put the neck in the pot and I boiled and boiled it. I checked the meat and it was tough. I boiled it and boiled it some more. Captain Sam came in the door and asked about the bird. I told him it had been cooking all day long. Captain Sam sat at the table and I took the neck out and wound it around and around on the plate. Captain Sam looked and looked and studied the neck for a while and then said, "Give this neck to the dog." I threw the neck out the door to the dog and the dog smelled it and ran and hid in the woods. I had to bury that neck and the bird before the dog came home. I told Captain Sam that if he brought something home like that again he can cook it for himself."


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