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November 21, 2015

From the time I was a child I heard the story of Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims who settled there. I have learned more about their story in the intervening years.

More than thirty-five years ago in Boston I visited a replica of the Mayflower, the vessel that brought the Pilgrims to the shores of the New World. I was struck by how small the ship was. The thought of crowding 102 people on a boat 128 feet long and enduring an ocean voyage of sixty-six days boggles the mind.

In the middle of the Atlantic, the small Mayflower was swept into a fierce storm. A tremendous wave broke across the deck of the ship, splintering boards and fracturing one of the main beams. With Captain Christopher Jones shouting orders above the roar of the raging sea, the crew employed a large iron screw jack to lift the broken beam and the sagging deck back into place. After inspecting the repairs, Captain Jones decided that the ship’s hull was sound. The journey continued.

The storm at sea was yet another event in a long history of difficulties faced by the Pilgrims. A decade after removing themselves from the Church of England, the Separatists lived as exiles in Holland. The Puritans, as they were also known, negotiated for three years before obtaining the necessary sponsor to establish a colony in the New World.  Only eight Separatist families were prepared to make the pilgrimage across the ocean. They were refugees from Europe seeking a secure homeland that afforded them religious freedom.

Thinking that the group was too small to survive, the Virginia Company recruited volunteers to join the voyage.  The Puritans referred to these recruits as strangers. The passengers — strangers and Pilgrims, soldiers and sailors, recruits with their families, and eight Separatist families — made the perilous voyage together.

The Mayflower’s intended destination was the Jamestown Colony. Whether or not Captain Jones was aware that the ship was off course is unknown; but at sunrise on November 9, 1620, the high ground of Cape Cod was sighted. The Mayflower would have to sail three more weeks if it was to reach Jamestown.

The decision was made to go as far south as the mouth of the Hudson River, just inside the boundary of the Virginia Company’s claimed land. A few hours later, another storm, roaring out of Nantucket Sound, drove the small ship back to the north.  The Mayflower found refuge just inside the tip of Cape Cod at the safe harbor now known as Provincetown, Massachusetts.

One of the strangers on board was Steven Hopkins.  His wife had given birth to a son at sea on the Mayflower only a few days after the fierce storm that broke the crossbeam.  The infant was appropriately named Oceanus.

Hopkins had overheard mutinous talk among some of the strangers.  They grumbled that if the Mayflower landed outside of the Virginia Company’s territory, the authority of the colony would not be legally binding upon them.

The Separatists heard the rumor. Their leaders — William Brewster, William Bradford, John Carver, and Edward Winslow — wrote out a statement of self-government. The Separatists persuaded the others on board to sign the document. Before anyone set foot on solid ground, forty-one men, strangers as well as Pilgrims, had signed the Mayflower Compact.

Over the following weeks, the Mayflower continued to explore the inner curve of Cape Cod, searching for a suitable harbor. Finally on December 21, the trustworthy vessel found a haven at Plymouth. By Christmas Day, a holiday the Puritans did not observe, construction on the first buildings had begun. While homes were being built, the people continued to live aboard the cramped Mayflower.

The first winter in the New World was severe, and disease was rampant. Pneumonia and scurvy decimated the ranks of the colonists. By spring, fifteen of the eighteen wives had died, as had five of the twenty-eight children. Nineteen of the twenty-nine hired men and fifteen of the thirty sailors died from hard work in the harsh weather. Only five Pilgrim men and eight strangers remained alive. Teenager Priscilla Mullins lost her entire family.

The bereavement and hardships of that winter united strangers and Pilgrims. A hardened soldier, Miles Standish tended the sick alongside Separatist William Brewster. Sneering sailors and praying Puritans now shared a common suffering.

On March 16, a tall, half-naked man walked into the circle of startled villagers. He introduced himself as Samoset. He spoke only a little English. So, he left in frustration. Three days later, Samoset returned with Squanto, who knew English very well. These two Native Americans were largely responsible for the survival of the depleted colony. Perhaps aware of the hardships the colonists had endured, the Indians taught the Europeans how to hunt and fish.

Following the death of Governor William Carver in April 1621, the Mayflower set sail for the return voyage to Europe. The fifty people of Plymouth Colony, more than half of them children, were left in America.  Surviving widows and widowers were united in marriage. Priscilla Mullins became the bride of John Alden.

Massasoit, Chief of the Narragansett tribe, befriended the Pilgrims. A treaty signed by both groups kept the peace for fifty-four years, until Massasoit’s death.  Native Americans advised the colonists on agricultural methods that enabled the Plymouth community to enjoy a good harvest.  On December 13, 1621, a three-day feast was planned. Massasoit came with ninety Indians. We often refer to that feast as the first Thanksgiving.

At that gathering, William Bradford read scripture and led in prayers of praise and gratitude.

Fifteen years ago, following the death of our son Erik in mid-November, several well-meaning friends told us that Thanksgiving would forever be ruined for our family. That has not been true. In fact, Thanksgiving has become an even more meaningful time for us. We have so much for which to be grateful.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is the least commercialized of all of our celebrations. It is the one day that all people of every faith can celebrate. Will those who have experienced a great loss be able to be thankful? Will the people who suffered most from the recent flooding be able to give thanks? Will the difficulties of our lives prevent us from being grateful?  Will we reduce this opportunity to express our appreciation for the blessings of life to a day for football and overeating?

When Clare and I gather with our family around our table on Thursday, I will tell the Mayflower story. We will read from the Psalms, and we will pray. You might consider doing something similar with your family.

The people of the Mayflower serve as an example for all of us.  We learn from them that our deepest expressions of gratitude may come in the midst of our greatest difficulties.


November 14, 2015

Clare and I enjoyed a  meal at a local eatery in late October.  As we finished our meal, I noticed two ladies standing at the checkout. While waiting to pay their tab, they examined a display of brooms placed near the door by the local Lion’s Club. The available selections featured brooms of various sizes and prices.

“You need a broom for Halloween,” one said to the other.

“Are you saying I’m a witch?” her companion asked.

“I’m just saying, you need a broom.”

“I haven’t been called a witch lately, but something close to that.”

“Yeah, me, too. Maybe we both need a broom.”

I thought about witches I have known. When I was growing up there was an old woman who lived way down beyond my house where the pavement ended and the road turned to red dirt. She had a big, black cast-iron pot in her yard and several mean dogs. One day I walked down there by myself. I heard a shotgun blast. I was pretty sure she shot at me. I thought she might have been a witch.

When I was in high school English class, I encountered three witches as characters in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. I can still remember their chant.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

At Halloween, the image of witches riding across the sky on magical broomsticks is common. Where did the notion that witches ride brooms originate? It developed during the witchcraft hysteria, with subsequent mass executions, beginning in the early 16th Century in Europe.

Rye as the bread of the common folk. It was a staple in every home.  Rye bread that aged became host to a mold called ergot. In high doses, ergot could be lethal. In smaller doses, it became quite popular among herbalists as a cure. It’s mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare and in writings from the witchcraft age.

Medicinal preparations made from ergot helped to relieve migraine headaches by constricting the swollen blood vessels that caused the pain. One ergot derivative was also useful in preventing hemorrhaging following childbirth by causing uterine muscles to contract. They were also used to ease menstrual difficulties.

Some ancient herbalists applied ergot ointment to the female body using a smooth stick, as, for example, a broomstick. However, ergot is also a source of LSD and the hallucinogenic effects are powerful. Women given this treatment often experienced altered states of consciousness including fanciful flights. Some who observed women under the influence of the drug were convinced that the women were possessed by demons and therefore they were thought to be witches. So brooms, magical flights, and witches became connected in the public mind.

Novelist J. K. Rowling gave us the high-tech broomstick in her popular fantasies about Harry Potter. The first broomstick Harry owned was the Nimbus Two Thousand. The amazing transport allowed Harry to fly through the air, especially in Quidditch matches. But in a competition at Hogwarts in Harry’s third year, he was attacked by Dementors. Rendered unconscious, Harry fell off his broom. The errant Nimbus flew into the Whomping Willow. The tree objected to being hit and smashed Harry’s broom to bits. Later in the epic tale, Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, replaced the Nimbus with a Firebolt, a considerable upgrade in the broomstick world.

My most recent encounter with a witch was in a television commercial for GEICO insurance. A witch with a sinister laugh flies around a broom manufacturing plant. She stops to snag a fresh broom from one of the intimidated employees and continues her giddy flight. Two guys, one playing the mandolin, the second a guitar, croon that those who choose GEICO insurance are happier than a witch in a broom factory.

The commercial raises a question about the manufacture of brooms.

Brooms have been used for centuries to sweep caves, campsites, cabins, and castles. In America, making brooms is considered a heritage craft. All American brooms were handmade prior to the eighteenth century.  They were unrefined round brooms made from fibrous materials such as grass, straw, hay, fine twigs, or corn husks.  The broom sweep was tied onto a handle made from a tree branch. Cordage used to tie the broom was woven from hemp and flax. Homemade brooms swept clean the floor and the hearth, but they fell apart easily.

In 1797 a Massachusetts farmer, Levi Dickenson, made a broom for his wife. He used the tassels left over from his harvested sorghum.  His version swept better than others. Dickson started making brooms for his neighbors.

After the invention of the foot-treadle broom machine in 1810, broom shops appeared in many communities. Like the Lion’s Club display at the restaurant, customers were offered a choice of buying a small handled broom for use in tight areas around the fireplace or a long handled one to sweep the open wood or dirt floors in their homes.

The less ornate craftsmanship of the Shakers changed the design of the round broom in the mid-1820′s.  They eliminated the woven stems up the handle and introduced wire to bind their brooms to the handle.  Using a vise to press the broom flat, it was stitched with linen cord.

By1830, the United States was producing enough brooms to export to other countries in South America and in Europe. The American broom industry thrived until 1994 when foreign brooms were permitted to be imported into the United States, duty free.

Brooms play an important role in southern legend and lore. Jumping over the broom is a euphemism for marriage. The exact origin of the custom is uncertain. A commonly held belief is that the practice has roots in Africa. However, there are no recorded instances of African weddings that involved jumping over a broom.

What is certain is that brooms were spiritual symbols in some African regions. In Ghana brooms were waved above the heads of newlyweds and their parents.

Some anthropologists believe that jumping over the broom at weddings was first known in Wales, originating either among the Welsh people themselves or among gypsies living in Wales. If so, the custom must have come to the colonies through Welsh settlers and then transferred to the slaves of the South. When a couple jumps over the broom together, their marriage is confirmed, and they will enjoy a good life together.

The Irish have a saying worth remembering. “A new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners”

My grandmother use to say, “Never take an old broom to a new house.” This may explain the southern custom of giving a new broom as a housewarming gift.

Recently, one of our grandsons was helping me sweep the back porch. I used a grandfather-size broom; he used a child’s broom. I was reminded of a couple of old broom superstitions.

  • Always sweep dirt out the back door, or you will sweep away your best friend.
  • When a child takes a broom and begins to sweep, company is coming.

About that time my grandson’s parents showed up to take him home.

There must be at least a grain of truth in the old legends.


November 8, 2015

David Lee Bishop, Jr., whom I knew as Uncle David, died on March 24, 2015, at the age of 91. A Spartanburg native, he was a graduate of Spartanburg High School. He attended Wofford College before enlisting in the military. He served his country during World War II as a pilot in the Army Air Corp. While serving, he was shot down, captured, and held as a prisoner of war for several months in Germany.

On April 17, 2012, my uncle David Bishop was aboard a special flight for World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. The honorees were to visit the new World War II Memorial.

As they boarded the jet plane, Ed Cudd, one of David’s friends, spoke to the pilot. “Are you the fellow flying us to Washington?”

“Yes,” answered the captain.

“I brought my own pilot with me. He flew a bomber during the war,” said Ed, introducing David.

“Glad to meet you,” said the captain.

“Trouble is,” continued Ed, “he was shot down before he ever got his wings.”

Before he received the recognition, David was pressed into service.

Clare and I had supper with Uncle David and Aunt Ann on their wedding anniversary. I mentioned an article that appeared in the Spartanburg Magazine (Winter 2006), that Laura Perricone had written about Uncle David. Laura’s article was “Heroes Among Us.” Uncle David recounted the story of his experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.

David Bishop was a nineteen-year-old student at Wofford College when he and some of his buddies enlisted in the Air Force Reserve at Camp Croft in Spartanburg. He really had little desire to be a pilot. He decided it would be better to be in the air than on the ground during combat.

When he was called to active duty, he left Wofford, his family, and his girlfriend Ann, one of my dad’s younger sisters. He became a pilot of the B-17 bomber also known as the Flying Fortress. While stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi, David and his crew of nine men trained by making six-hour flights to and from Fort Worth, Texas. On a clear day in September 1944, he decided that if he had to fly for six hours, he might as well fly to Spartanburg.

David’s family lived near South Church Street. Flying the big bomber at two thousand feet, he circled the Bishop home twice, trying to get his family’s attention. He radioed the Spartanburg control tower and asked them to telephone his parents. On his next pass over the home, he could see his mother and his sister in the yard, waving towels. He then flew over the Neely home on Union Road as a way of impressing Aunt Ann. It worked.

The crew traveled back to Gulfport, arriving at their base within the six-hour time frame. If his superiors knew of his diversion, nothing was ever mentioned.

Soon thereafter David and his crew were sent to England.  David was required to fly into combat as a copilot on five missions before he could serve as a pilot. He was placed with a pilot who had twenty-eight successful missions.

November 26, 1944, was a fateful day in the war. Germany sent 240 fighter planes aloft to attack the American bombers. The sky was filled with a black cloud of flak. More than one hundred American bombers were shot down, including David’s.

The engines of David’s plane were ablaze. Several members of the crew were killed immediately. Those still alive were ordered to bail out at twenty thousand feet. Parachuting at that height meant almost certain death. German fighter planes were known to fire at men floating to the ground in parachutes. With the bomber on fire, the men had no alternative. They had to jump.

Crewmembers are like family members.  One of the crew was afraid, but David finally persuaded the young man to jump.

David had learned from a Royal Air Force instructor that positioning himself in a spread eagle after bailing would help stabilize the free fall.  The instructor failed to tell him that both arms and both legs are to be spread into position at the same time.

After David jumped from the plane, he stuck out one arm and went into a spin.  Once he straightened out, he decided to try the other arm.  He started spinning in the opposite direction.  Finally, David was reoriented.

Looking down, he could see that his plane had already crashed and was burning on the ground. Realizing that he must be running out of time, he pulled the ripcord.  Before he could look to see if the chute had opened, he had hit the ground.  He made a perfect landing, but he had fallen nearly nineteen thousand feet before his chute opened.

On the ground, David immediately rolled up his chute. Within an hour, the German military had captured him.  One of the soldiers pulled a switchblade knife on him and demanded his parachute.  David refused to relinquish it, but of course, did so when he was processed at the prisoner of war camp.

Uncle David told me how the Germans treated prisoners of war. At times, they were on a starvation diet.  At other times the prisoners lived on rutabagas.

As the war drew to a close, word came through secret avenues that the Germans intended to exterminate all of the prisoners of war.  David’s colonel, also a prisoner, knew that if they left the camp, they would probably be executed. He made it clear to their German captors that he would not allow his men to leave the prison until the allies arrived.

The Russians got there first and were in control of the camp during the last two weeks of David’s imprisonment. That, too, was a difficult time.  Finally, the prisoners were liberated by American forces. After his evacuation, David was able to return home.

Uncle David spoke of the importance of his faith during his internment.  He said that he prayed when he parachuted from the plane and when he was falling from the sky.  His prayer was one of gratitude, simple gratitude that God had been with him.  David told how he had appreciated the worship services inside the prisoner of war camp.  The chaplain, a prisoner from New Zealand, ministered to the captives.  He brought messages based on scripture that had practical application for their lives in that moment.

I specifically asked Uncle David about how these experiences shaped his faith.

He explained, “I am not a very pious man, but I can tell you this.  I have always known that God is with me.”

In April, when David traveled on the honor flight back home, something unusual happened. As the World War II veterans disembarked the plane at the Greenville-Spartanburg Jetport, the captain of the flight saluted David.

“It’s high time you had these,” he said, and he handed David his wings.


October 31, 2015
Baseball Cards

The World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets is one of the most interesting pairings in the last several years. Both teams have young players who have not been well known until this year. Both teams have excellent pitching and outstanding managers. It seems to be a good matchup though at this posting the Royals hold a two games to none led over the Mets.

Baseball is a sport that has long been one of my favorites. I played the game as a kid. Tommy Stokes and I were teammates and have remained life-long friends. Tommy played second base and sometimes catcher. I alternated between third base and right field.

I remember well the trip my grandfather and I took to Florida when I was in the tenth grade. The venture was a fishing trip, but my grandfather had previously suffered two hearts attacks and a stroke. His health problems prevented him from driving. Since I had recently obtained my South Carolina driver’s license, I drove his 1955 Oldsmobile. His doctor told him he could fish only every other day. He complied, but on the off days we traveled all over the Sunshine State to see spring training games. Spartanburg County native Art Flower was a pitching coach for the Dodgers. We visited him in the dugout before a game and then watched the Dodgers shut out the Phillies.

My wife does not share my fondness for baseball. She has endured a few games but would just as soon watch corn grow. Clare has three suggestions as to how baseball can be improved.

  1. Baseball players need uniforms that fit. They spend entirely too much time pulling and tugging to adjust their uniforms. The gyrations of baseball players trying to get comfortable are unsightly if not obscene.
  2. Clare suggests that every team ought to be required to have a dentist to advise the players on their unhealthy habits of chewing and dipping. Spitting is another problem. Seeing players expectorate on the field, in the dugout, and on their gloves is disgusting. Why, she wonders, should a spitball be illegal when all other spitting is permitted?
  3. Clare believes baseball would be a better game if a clock were used to time the contest.   The fans could be assured that time would eventually run out. Clare has never understood extra innings.   To her, they only prolong the agony.

I have invented a game — ceiling fan baseball. I offer it tongue-in-cheek. It requires three or more players and a ceiling fan with adjustable speeds, allowing the game to be played at beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels. Advanced, of course, uses the highest speed. Caution: the ceiling fan should not have a light bulb beneath.

The game is simple. A Wiffle ball or a Nerf is preferable. The pitcher stands directly under the ceiling fan and tosses the baseball up into the whirling blades of the fan. The other players are fielders. They take their positions around the room with their baseball gloves. The only person who can score is the pitcher.

If the ceiling fan misses the ball, that is a strike. The pitcher earns five points for a strikeout. If the ball hits the floor after being whacked by the ceiling fan, the pitcher gets one point. If the ball hits the wall, that is a home run and the pitcher is awarded three points. The first player in the outfield to catch the ball three times becomes the pitcher. If the pitcher throws a ball into the fan and the fan hits the ball and breaks out a window, smashes a picture, or breaks a vase, the pitcher is ejected from the game, loses five points, and is responsible for cleaning up the mess.

If the World Series continues as it began, Mets fans can console themselves with ceiling fan baseball. After all, it is the only version of the national pastime in which the fan gets to hit.

Several years ago I opened a brand new box of shredded wheat. As I poured the nutritious squares into a bowl, a small pack of baseball cards fell out of the box. The cards were made by the Topps Company. Among them was a Chipper Jones card. Finding the surprise was an early morning experience that would have gladdened the heart of any Atlanta Braves fan. Chipper Jones has been a perennial all-star as a third baseman.

I can remember the first baseball cards I collected. They, too, were made by Topps. Each pack included a flat piece of stale, pink bubble gum. The adventure inherent in opening a pack of baseball cards was discovering the pictures of the best players. Those little pieces of cardboard were treasures. Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Duke Snider were among the cards I valued most. I kept them in an old Tampa Nugget cigar box on the closet shelf.

Sometimes my friends and I would choose a less desirable baseball card, fold it in half, and attach it to our bicycles with a clothespin. The sound made by the rubbing of the card against the spokes of the wheel mimicked the roar of a motor; at least it did in our imagination.

After I left home to go to college, my mother, in a flurry of closet cleaning, got rid of my cigar box full of baseball cards. I couldn’t believe it! I was bereft. In today’s market, that small collection would have been worth a king’s ransom. I am amazed at how the value of cardboard can appreciate.

Our son, Kris, was our baseball card collector as a youngster. Among his favorites was the rookie card of Cal Ripken, Jr. He even has a Chipper Jones rookie card. It was autographed by the future Major League star when he played a game at Duncan Park in Spartanburg. Then Jones was a first-year player in the minor leagues, playing shortstop for the Macon Braves. One night when the Spartanburg Phillies were playing the team from Macon, Georgia, Kris took his prized rookie card and an indelible marker to the game. While the Phillies were at bat, Kris handed the card and marker over the fence behind the visitor’s dugout. A very young Chipper emerged, signed the card, and handed it back to Kris.

Kris and I have spent many hours together talking about baseball, cataloguing cards, and enjoying the national pastime on television. At the time, Ryne Sandberg was his favorite player. Sandberg started his career with the Spartanburg Phillies. He was traded to Chicago and played his major league career for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Sandberg was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. On Kris’ tenth birthday I gave him a Topps rookie card of the Cubs’ second baseman.

The following year, I got a surprise for my birthday. I opened a small package from Kris. Inside was a Topps baseball card picturing Rocky Colavito, my favorite baseball player when I was a kid. Rocky was the center fielder for the Cleveland Indians, a power hitter who hit four home runs in one game as a major leaguer. When Rocky Colavito was in the minor leagues, he played for the Spartanburg Peaches at Duncan Park. Rocky lived in a spare bedroom at my grandmother’s house on South Converse Street while he played in Spartanburg.

The other day I enjoyed a bowl of shredded wheat with a perfectly ripe banana sliced on top. I remembered the surprise of finding the cards and thought about the way our lives are enriched by small things like cardboard pictures of baseball players. Though they have some monetary value, their greatest value is in the memories they create.

A parable in the Bible says that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and goes and buys the field. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is like a grown man who finds a baseball card in his breakfast cereal and, for a moment, feels like a kid again.

Halloween Memories.

October 24, 2015

One of my favorite Halloween memories is the candy apples that Mama made for the many trick-or-treaters that came to our house. I shared the story in this column several years ago. Since then I have received request for a repeat. Some want Mama’s recipe for the sugary fruit on a stick; others just enjoy the story.

On Halloween night, our grandchildren, along with great nieces and great nephews, visit their great-aunt Beth’s house to trick-or-treat. Beth follows the tradition started by our mother. She makes candy apples for the costumed little ones who come to her door seeking treats.

The bright red candy apple was an entirely new experience for our grandchildren. After a time of intense licking, they were a sugar-coated sight. Cheeks and lips were crimson, chins and hands were sticky. In their first encounter with a candy apple they never did get down to the fruit beneath the candy coating.

When I was a boy, back in the days before the Grinch stole Halloween, October 31 was one of the most anticipated evenings of the year. All Hallow’s Eve was second only to Christmas Eve when excitement, for kids, permeated the night air. No sooner had the sun gone down, than costumed kids of every age flooded the streets of the neighborhood, knocking on doors and shouting “Trick-or-treat!”

Parents escorting their children stood a few yards away, guardian angels watching over small gremlins and goblins. The trick-or-treaters carried plastic jack-o-lanterns or paper bags to collect their bounty.

My friend Rusty always dressed as a pirate, carrying a large pillowcase to stash his booty. He stuffed a second pillowcase into his pocket, just in case the first one reached capacity. Rusty’s Halloween range was far greater than mine. He worked his neighborhood of Ben Avon before dark and then came to my street about the time I walked out of my house dressed as a hobo.

We ventured from one house to the next collecting treats. Rusty carried a spray can of whipping cream as he made his rounds. If the treat he received at a home was particularly generous, Rusty marked the driveway with a whipped cream star. A full-sized candy bar – Hershey, Snickers, Milky Way, or Three Musketeers – merited a star.

I learned a lot from Rusty. His advice was to avoid large groups. Two beggars at a time were enough for any home. Five or six together usually got smaller gifts.

Occasionally, we would have meetings with other trick-or-treaters to discuss which houses gave out the best goodies. Rusty was like a crafty angler, concealing his best fishing hole. He never told about the houses with the whipped cream star. On the other hand, he gathered as much information as he could.

Sometimes Rusty would trade treats with other consultants. He always came out on the better end of the deal. I saw him trade three packs of Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum for a Hershey’s Chocolate Almond bar and a pack of Topps Baseball Cards. The pack had both a Mickey Mantle and a Willie Mays card inside.

One dark night, at one of the roadside conferences, an unlikely clown revealed that “a guy on the other side of Duncan Park Lake giving away silver dollars.”

After the meeting broke up, Rusty said, “Let’s go!”

I knew he meant we were going to the other side of the lake, but the trip was beyond my range and would have taken me long past my curfew. We headed back toward my house.

Rusty stopped at a driveway with a whipped cream star. He took off his pirate’s eye patch, removed the bandana from his head, walked to the door, and collected a second 3 Musketeers candy bar from the same house. He added a second whipped cream star to mark the driveway.

“I’ll see you later,” he said as he left for the other side of Duncan Park Lake, and I continued toward my home.

My mother knew how to throw a party. She believed every holiday deserved to be celebrated to the fullest. St. Valentine and St. Patrick got almost as much attention as St. Nicholas.

Halloween was one of her favorite occasions. Orange pumpkins adorned the front porch. Inside our home glowing jack-o-lanterns and gossamer ghosts were everywhere.

Mama’s contribution to trick-or-treaters was a candy apple, the treat everybody wanted most of all. Mama dipped apples, each fitted with a short sharpened stick, into a hot candy coating. If you have ever burned your hands with a hot glue gun, you know how dipping a candy apple feels.

Every Halloween, Mama made hundreds. Children came trick-or-treating at our house from all over town.

Mama bought apples by the case from the Community Cash grocery store at the end of our street. The family took turns at a pencil sharpener putting points on the dowel rods Dad had cut at the lumberyard. The apples were washed and the sticks inserted before Mama cooked the candy. She made many batches, hundreds of candy apples, every Halloween.

My sister Beth, now the queen of candy apples in our family, was willing to share Mama’s recipe, which makes 12-24 candy apples. She said the technique for making the treat can be tricky.


2 cups sugar

1 package cinnamon candy drops (Mama stockpiled these.)

1 tablespoon red food coloring

1 cup water

1 teaspoon vinegar


Cook all ingredients to 265 degrees – somewhere between soft and hard crack stage – on a candy thermometer.

Dip apples.

Place on a marble slab greased with real butter.

Wrap in plastic bags when cool.


Several years ago, I conducted a funeral service for a man who grew up in our neighborhood. Following the funeral, the brother of the deceased fondly told me of coming to our house on Halloween. He said that Mama always invited the children into her kitchen so that she could see their costumes.

“We would get a candy apple, go home, change disguises, and come back for another.” Then he made a confession. “One year, my brother and I came trick-or-treating at your house four times. We got four candy apples!” Then he added, “Your mother knew. She called us by name and said, ‘You boys have been here four times. I think that’s enough this year.’”

“What made you think you could get away with that?” I asked.

He grinned, “There were four whipped cream stars by your driveway.”

The High Road: The Blue Ridge Parkway

October 18, 2015
Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the jaunts that Clare and I look forward to each fall is a drive through the mountains. The high mountains will soon be in their full autumn glory. There is no better way to take in the wonder of this season than a road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Clare and I often travel up the Saluda Grade for a brief retreat. We usually purchase a few pumpkins and several varieties of apples along the way. After a picnic lunch we sometimes pause to enjoy a Carolina blue sky with only a few high clouds drifting above. The southern Appalachian highlands are all the more exhilarating if there is a nip in the air, and the vast forest is ablaze with color. Perched on the tailgate of my pickup truck at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway is better than having a seat on the fifty-yard line at any football game.

The Southern Appalachian Mountains and surrounding foothills are decked out for their annual autumn display. Peak fall colors in our area occur from mid-October through early November. Though the mountains are home to more than 100 species of trees, the most colorful foliage comes courtesy of sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweet gums, red maples, and hickory trees.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was conceived during the Great Depression, a scenic link between the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains. The project was designed to put unemployed people back to work.

The two-lane highway stretches 469 miles across the southern Appalachian Mountains. As the crow flies, the Parkway may be the shortest route between two parks, but certainly not the quickest. With its many ups and downs, twists and turns, and a speed limit that would be the minimum on most highways, driving the Parkway takes time. Read more…


October 10, 2015
Joe Bennett ii

After suffering a shoulder injury in a traffic accident in September two years ago, I have been limited in some usual activities. Lifting anything that required both arms was difficult. Have you ever tried to change an overhead light bulb using just one hand?  Some of the things that bring joy to my life were difficult.  For example, during our family vacation at the coast I was unable to surf fish or to use a cast net to catch bait. Closer to home, working in the garden was more difficult. Maybe the thing I missed most was being able to lift a grandchild. I could not pick up our grandchildren without first sitting down to pull them up to my knee using only my right arm.

Following shoulder surgery in early May of this year, I was still unable to use my left arm for several weeks. The surgery was helpful, but I cannot shovel mulch in the garden. Nor can I bend down to pick up a grandchild without first finding a chair. But I can strum my guitar and that is, for me, a part of the healing process. Read more…


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