Here in the South we are happily immersed in our beloved football season. College football is serious business here, Go Tigers! (Sorry to my Carolina fan friends). Weddings and other events are scheduled around the games. Folks fly their team’s flag from their porches and on the windows of their cars. At school, teachers are permitted to wear their team’s colors with jeans on Friday and we have an annual Clemson v. Carolina food drive in November. The high school football scene dominates Thursday and Friday nights, some games broadcast over local television and all covered by the local sportscasters. The bands and cheerleaders that support these teams are equally as serious and games become a family affair, sometimes with multiple generations in attendance. The hit show Friday Night Lights, was based on the culture of football in the South. Where does this all start? Under the Wednesday night lights of the local park and recreation fields. Young eight and nine year olds, heavily padded and helmeted, with their still toothpick legs looking quite comical, take the field to be indoctrinated into the game. They experience the thrill of a team touchdown and the agony of a loss. They learn the value of teamwork and having good coaches to mentor them. They learn discipline and goal setting (something I think all kids involved in sports do). These Wednesday night games do not have the glamour of press coverage or the thrill of super exciting plays. It is a bit of stumbling and bumbling out there akin to Larry, Curly and Moe. There are no elaborate tailgates, although we lounge in our folding chairs with drinks in hand and snacks in our bags, plus plenty of bug spray. The victories will not lead to a bowl invitation. But the heart and the bravery of these young players will make you smile. This is where it begins, the Wednesday night lights shine bright for the next generation of high school and college players. This Wednesday night ritual that is played on fields all over the South is part of the fabric of our community. A part of the transitional season of autumn, these young players inspire us to put our hearts into our endeavors, if we work hard and have a bit of luck, we might just score a touchdown. Just another reason to love the South!
I am on vacation, visiting my parents in Virginia, just named the most patriotic state in the union. So glad my beloved South Carolina ranked in the top ten. The fourth of July is just two days away and I anticipate it much like a child anticipates Christmas. I grew up in a military family, patriotism was a daily influence and Independence Day was the yearly celebration of all being a patriot stood for. My daddy was an officer in the United States Army. He was an engineer who served in Vietnam and held many command posts in his career including command of the First Engineer Battalion of the famed and storied Big Red One division. I grew up on bases all around this country and even in Europe. I thrilled at the tradition of Taps, the care of the flag and the soldiers in uniform. Even today I am in awe of firework displays as if I were seeing them for the first time. A patriotic song can stir my soul and even bring a tear to my eye. One of the things I love about teaching school is the daily ritual of saying the pledge of allegiance and singing one of our many patriotic songs, You’re a Grand Old Flag being one of my favorites. I use a lot of red white and blue in my decorating and I even have a box of July decorations I greet at the end of June like old friends. I am grateful daily for the sacrifices of the many men and women who have served this country in and out of uniform. I love our collective efforts to move our country forward, improving and striving for the ideals our forefathers set out in the constitution. We can be a shining example for the world if we work together (If only congress understood that) and if we learn from the sins of our past. I must say Charleston was the shining example of this with the Mother Emmanuel Church Shooting, I am so proud of my community for that. Some may call me an idealist for imagining the country and dare I extend my imaginings to the world as a place where all lives are respected and supported to reach their potential, all have their basic needs of food, shelter, safety and medical care met. I also imagine a place where all are literate, educated and engaged in the communities in which they live. A place where the separation of church and state does not mean the absence of church but rather the tolerance for all religions and churches being free to worship without government interference and government be able to function without religion’s interference. This is one of the greatest themes from our forefathers. In America we have a society where all this is possible, our example can be the light for the world. Our forefathers loved this country so much they were willing to die for it. I have ancestors on both sides that did their duty in the revolutionary war. Many of them were the children of men and women who came to the colonies in the 1600’s to seek religious freedom. Also among my ancestors are a few immigrants who understood the promise America held and they left their homeland of Scotland and took a chance on a new life. So after the parades, hot dogs and apple pie and amidst the fireworks and sparklers I plan to take a few moments and reflect on my love of this great nation and how I can do my part to continue to build her up towards our ideals. Celebrate the Fourth with enthusiasm and capture that spirit of hope to carry you through another year in the greatest country on the planet.
Anyone who is a teacher or related to one knows that from mid-August to June a teacher’s time is not their own. They can tell you precisely what they will be doing any weekday at any given time between seven and four. Each day runs on schedule with little deviation. Science is always during science, of course the content changes and the lessons change from year to year to accommodate the needs of the current class and to keep the content from becoming stale for the instructor. Even the time off is regimented, you know well in advance what days you will have off, so it is difficult to whisk away for a fall leaf vacation in New England or to take in Paris in the spring. Big trips are taken in the heat of the summer. I am sure some of you out there are thinking, you get your summers off and we don’t, but the truth of the matter is we have earned those days, they are comp time for the sixty to eighty hour weeks typically put in to the school year and if you teach young kids like me, you need time to recover or you will soon depart this very demanding but rewarding profession. Now, school is out! These eight weeks are scheduled only at my whim, I do work tutoring and teaching a two week summer program, that gives me free afternoons, so while some time is scheduled, the majority of these eight weeks are blessedly my own. My routine in the summer always includes a weekly visit to the beach with a picnic lunch and a good book. I savor my time on the beach, there is something soothing about the sight and sound of the waves crashing up on the shore. the breeze counteracts the heat beating down from the sun, both of which seem to recharge my endorphins. When I take a break from my book, I people watch, mining the scene for characters. The beach is also a great place to think. I reflect on the past, mull over the present and wonder about the future. I close my eyes and ideas for my novels will flood my mind, I have learned to take notepad and pen with me. Since as far back as I can remember the beach has been a happy place for me. We spent hours on the beaches of Italy, Hawaii and Maine in my childhood. Living on the coast of South Carolina keeps me in my happy place most of the time, year round but especially in the summer. Each June the promise of summer presents itself like a elaborately wrapped gift waiting to be unwrapped. It is the gift of time. I want to read on the beach, write, organize closets, visit with family and friends, tackle a project or two. I did set up my tutoring schedule so I have several days a week free. How fast the days and hours of summer become filled, the promise of extra time diminished. Yet, it is still more time than the other seasons of the year. As the years march on I have become more aware of the value of time and have even learned to be a bit selfish about how I spend it. The promise of summer is more time to do the things I absolutely love and savor them. This summer time makes me wonder what life might be like when I finally retire from teaching. I was talking to my daddy the other day and sharing with him my working plans for the summer and adding in, I look forward to the day I can just spend my days writing. He responded with “Well you can’t write all day every day.” He is absolutely right. I find several hours at a time is about what my brain and hands can take for a session, although when I am on a roll I can do longer or a second session later in the day or night. So even if writing was the only must do on my agenda, I would still have hours to fill. I may not get to everything on my summer to do list but one thing is certain the time I spend on the beach will fulfill the promise of summer,
I have been making a lot of casseroles lately. It seems many friends have need, they have suffered loss or are recovering from surgery and the happier event of having a baby. While I am sure this is true in all communities, it is especially so in the south, any major life event calls for the offering of homemade nourishment, usually the more cheesy and bubbly the better. The true gift of these offerings is not what lies beneath the foil with baking instructions on top, but the tacit message that comes with. You are loved, you are cared for, you are not alone, we grieve with you, we celebrate with you. All this is conveyed with each bite the recipients take in. When you offer that casserole you are feeding the souls not just the bodies of the receivers. I think authors, books and readers are like that too. An author pours a bit of their soul into their work, whether it is fiction or otherwise. While that work might not be written for a specific person, it can have a great impact if it comes in contact with the right person at the right time. As readers we find books we connect to, that feed our soul, inspire us to grow. I always know those books by the way they linger with me for days after I have read the last page. I would like to think some of my work might touch a reader that way. I definitely know a bit of my soul is poured into every story that bubbles up in my brain and spills out onto the page. I think if someone took away books or writing from me the affect would be similar to withholding food. I need to write, even if I am the only one who sees the product. I need to read, it allows me to travel in time, develop empathy for characters unlike me and wonder at the possibilities. Books have been feeding my soul for a lifetime. Authors have given me gifts beyond the stories they have created. I would love to hear what book or author has done this for you if you are so inclined to share. The sharing of a book can be just as nourishing as that casserole of love.
Here in the South Carolina lowcountry, bridges are a part of everyday life. We are surrounded by rivers, tidal creeks, marsh,and the inter-coastal waterway. We nestle right up to the Atlantic Ocean. Most of our bridges are non-descript but a few are rather iconic. For years the main bridge connecting Charleston with the then sleepy village of Mount Pleasant was the Grace bridge., It was narrow, one lane for each direction and steep in places, not for the faint of heart. I know many a soul who refused to drive over it. It was a marvel though for its day. Years later a second bridge was built next to it, the idea was one bridge would be for travel in one direction and the other for the reverse. At one time to alleviate traffic lanes were reversed at certain times of day, A daily headache for law enforcement to say the least. These two bridges were often featured by artist renditions of the Charleston skyline. So when it was finally determined that the bridges had outlived their lifespans there was a lot of controversy about the modern bridge designed to replace it. I’ll admit I was one who was not enthused with losing the flavor of the old bridges. When the new bridge was ready to open and before the two old structures were demolished our community had a unique opportunity to run over one span and then back into to Charleston over the other. Now I had experienced being stuck in traffic on the Grace bridge with its narrow lanes and had felt the sway inside my vehicle. I would mutter prayers that I would make it off the bride in one piece. Running over it was sheet terror. Not only did the bridge sway feel like an earthquake, there were literally chunks of road bed missing and you could see down into the choppy water below. I had just driven over these same spots the week before. It truly is a miracle that no vehicle had fallen through and I’ll admit I finally saw the wisdom in tossing out the old and making way for the new. I’ll even admit I love the ease of driving over the new Ravenel Bridge and can even appreciate the modern beauty of the structure, it is a bit like a stylized sail and when it is lit at night it evokes the romance of our southern gem of a city. Which brings me to the bridge you see pictured in this post. As bridges go this is not the most charming or quaint bridge you might come across, but it is sentimental to me. I cross this bridge over the Wando River at least twice a day often more. It has become a touchstone in my life. A place to try and leave the worries of the day behind. A place I check to see is it low or high tide. But it’s days are numbered. Like much of our country’s infrastructure it is crumbling, it has been pressed into service long past it’s lifespan. So, it is being replaced by a concrete, soaring high above the water structure, devoid of character. I am worried I won’t be able to contemplate the water, or check the tide when I have to use it and my little bridge is demolished. Does it seem like we have taken the quaint and charm out of our communities in the name of progress to anyone else or is it just me? In a place like the lowcountry that is filled with such natural beauty shouldn’t we build more aesthetically pleasing structures? Is the modern world so wrapped up in what is happening in the virtual world on various sized screens that it is missing out on what is happening in the real world around them? I find inspiration, reassurance and solace in the vistas I see while crossing the bridges in this magical place I call home. I wonder if I will lose any of that when the new bridge is complete, after all the bridge over the Cooper River was a pleasant surprise. I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
I was a bit taken aback this week when the media decided to make a news story that a university study had declared that the simple act of a man opening a door for a woman was rife with the message that said man thought said woman was inferior. WHAT!? I was left scratching my head in confusion. Had the proverbial wool been pulled over my eyes all these years? Did all those men: dates, cousins, my Daddy, friends husbands and boyfriends who had held doors for me secretly think they were superior to me? No, Daddy spent my whole childhood telling me I could be anything I wanted to be and I could do anything I put my mind to, that certainly did not jive with what this study said about his behavior. I always saw a door held as a sign of respect and just plain good manners. I myself hold the door regularly for folks just behind me entering or departing from a building, not even taking their gender into account. I will admit I make the extra effort for my elders, not because I see them as frail incapable beings, but I want to show my respect. I understand that cultural norms of behavior change and evolve, but I would argue a culture devoid of civility and everyday courtesies runs the risk of ceasing to be a culture. I decided to consult my reference book on etiquette, no it is not the version published in the 1920’s that belonged to my grandmother or the 1960’s version one my mother received as a bride, it was the one I received when I graduated from college in the 1990’s and I happen to know there are newer versions out there that address on-line etiquette as well as proper wedding invitations. As I stated before, times change and call for adjustments in the norm for civil behavior, not the absence of civil behavior. I pulled my book off the shelf and found the above paragraph. Note where it points out such behavior is just common courtesy, not a statement on superiority or inferiority. A lot has been made of this study’s findings here in the south, mostly that holding doors and offering arms to women is a badge of respectability and manners for a southern man what is wrong with everyone else? We southerners sometimes think that we hold the market on manners and we do think it is part of a child’s essential education. I would argue it is also true in places like New England, where one of my male cousins who grew up in rural Maine, opened doors and offered an arm on and off boats to women from three to one-hundred. I find it hard to believe that any modern woman feels her intelligence suffers because a man held a door for her and if she does I would question her self-esteem, not if the man in question had a subversive plan to keep that little woman in her place. In this day and age mutual respect between people, shown via common courtesies, regardless of a person’s gender, race, or other identifying qualifiers is what will make our culture thrive. If we remove those acts of respect known as manners then the fabric of our society deteriorates. Not only do manners matter, they are the thread that holds our society together. So as a self-assured modern southern woman, let me finish by saying, “Thank you darlin’ for holding the door. Now, what kindness can I show you? Bless your heart.”
At the start of each February we American’s get wrapped up in the oddest of traditions. We leave logic and science by the wayside and pin our hopes on a rodent and if said rodent casts a shadow. Now Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania may be the most famous of the spring prognosticators. He certainly garners the most national news coverage. I suspect he has a well-oiled PR machine on par with the A-list celebs. But here in the south we have our own prognosticator (love that word!). In neighboring Georgia resides the venerable General Beauregard Lee. As luck would have it, Beauregard predicted an early spring for us, a much better outcome than the forecast from poor old Phil. Now as rodents go, both Phil and Beauregard are first class characters. I would also point out they have cushy careers, who else works for a few minutes, one day out of the year? It makes me a little curious of how they fill their time the other 364 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes that are left in a year. But, I digress, the point I wanted to make when I sat down to write this entry was despite the craziness of this tradition called Ground Hog Day, it provides us with a light hearted moment in the depths of winter. It reminds us that the winter will pass and spring will come, sooner or later. Turns out it is the message of the tradition more than the prediction that is the true take away. Our lives are filled with traditions, some we share with our fellow man and others are personal to us and our families. If we take a moment and delve below the surface we can gain deeper understanding of our selves and our fellow man. The tradition becomes meaningful, much more than a notation on a calendar. Here in the South one could easily make the argument that tradition has been elevated to an art form. We revel in tradition, we honor and respect the past, appreciate where we came from. We take stock in where we are. Traditions are the shadows of the past that light our way forward. There is a comfort, a sense of stability that traditions provide. While I enjoy new adventures and I am not opposed to (gasp!) altering traditions as the times and necessity might dictate. After all we live in the here and now, even in the South. I find strength in our traditions , they are a framework to the story of our lives. I find value in the way the shadows of the past shine a light in today. So for all the foreseeable Februarys of what I hope is a very long life I will throw logic out the window and wholeheartedly accept the prediction of that rascal of a rodent, General Beauregard Lee.