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FIREFLIES IN THE BACKYARD

August 22, 2015
Kids-Catching-Fireflies

On the first day of summer, a Sunday evening, right at dusk, the power went out at our house. Clare and I were sitting on our back porch enjoying the ceiling fans and ice cold beverages. When the fans stopped and the lights went dark, we experienced something that is rare in our area of the county. Without the artificial lights there might have been total darkness.
The sky was clear blue darkening to indigo. Stars were coming out. The backyard lawn, a mix of Kentucky fescue, South Carolina Bermuda grass, and patches of white clover, grew darker by the minute. Then there were lights, hundreds of tiny flickering specks of light, hovering above the lawn. Lightning bugs put on a silent show in our backyard.
“They seem to be synchronized,” Clare said.
I agreed. It was as if Christmas lights has been strung across the open expanse and arranged so that they flashed off and on in some magical way.
An hour or so later Duke Energy crews had the power restored. The fans were turning, the air conditioner was back in business, the refrigerator was again humming, and the lights were back on. I am grateful for those folks who work on a muggy Sunday night to keep the rest of us comfortable. But I must confess, I was also thankful for an hour of darkness that allowed me to see magical lights of stars in the sky and fireflies in the garden. Read more…

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

August 15, 2015
Dog Days

I was saddened to hear the story of a dog that was found by a police officer in a hot car at a shopping mall last week. The officer shattered the car window to rescue the bulldog from the sweltering car. The animal was lying on the passenger seat, panting, wheezing, and unable to move. The officer took the dog to an emergency veterinary clinic before transporting him to the Humane Society. The shelter reported that the dog died due to complications from heat stroke after he was left in the car. The dog’s owner was arrested and charged with animal cruelty.
Earlier this summer, I read the story about a woman who left her miniature schnauzer inside her automobile in a hot parking lot while she spent more than hour in an air-conditioned beauty salon. Though she left the windows partially opened so her pet would have fresh air, the well-coiffed lady returned, only to find that her dog had died. She, too, was charged with animal cruelty.
It makes you wonder why we call these hot, humid days the Dog Days of summer.
How hot is it?
The old clichés can be heard most anywhere folks can find a shady place to sit and complain.
“Hotter than a two-dollar pistol!”
“Hotter than a forty-dollar mule!”
“So hot that when I dug up potatoes in my garden, they were already baked.”
“So hot that we had to feed the hens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.”
Since I was a boy I have known that the weeks between my mother’s birthday on July 4 and mine near the end of August were the Dog Days of summer. Though the local weather reports indicate a few cooler days this week, I’ve been around long enough to know that the hottest days may still be ahead of us.
How hot has it been?
A friend, with beads of perspiration dripping down his face, grumbled, “It’s hotter than half of Georgia.” He must have meant the half that includes Atlanta, which like Columbia, always seems hotter than any place nearby.
When our daughter lived in Nashville she called to report that on a particularly sweltering day her beagle was missing. After a thorough search of the premises, she found her pup stretched out in the empty cool porcelain bathtub, as if waiting for someone to turn on the water. Dogs suffer as much as people do when the temperatures rise into the 90s. They, too, are uncomfortable in oppressive heat. So why is this time of the year referred to as Dog Days?
If you can find a place where the night sky is unobscured by artificial lights and pollution, the stars are clearly visible. People of ancient cultures gazed into the heavens, imagining that they were seeing figures depicted in the stars. It was an ancient version of connect the dots. We now call the configurations they saw constellations. Amazingly, Native Americans, the ancient Chinese, and the people of Greece and Rome all saw similar patterns in the stars. In these different cultures, separated by oceans, stargazers gave the constellations the same names. Big and Little Bear to Native Americans were Ursa Major and Ursa Minor to Europeans. Ursa means bear. We know these constellations best as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Diverse cultures saw the likeness of a bull in the constellation Taurus, though to Native Americans the bull was a bison.
Canis Major and Canis Minor mean Big Dog and Little Dog. The brightest star in Canis Major is Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius was thought to be the shining nose of the dog regarded as the companion of Orion, the hunter constellation. The Dog Star is so brilliant the Romans thought of it as a secondary sun, providing heat to the earth.
To the Greeks and Romans, the Dog Days began in late July, when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun. They continued into late August as long as the Dog Star rose and set with the sun. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe. Ancient people believed that the conjunction of the sun and the Dog Star caused an extended period of hot, muggy weather; hence the name, Dog Days.
Dog Days arrive when the humid weather of summer sets in. In the old days this was a time when the pace of life slowed way down, a time when families went to the mountains for cooler temperatures. People from the Lowcountry came to the Upstate to the resorts like Glenn Springs to escape, not only the sultry days of summer but also the danger of malaria carried by mosquitoes.
Dog Days are no longer a period of inactivity. Commercially, we have added a tax-free weekend, which has become one of the busiest times for retail shopping, second only to the days after Thanksgiving. Many schools begin their fall term in the Dog Days of summer at a time when it is almost too hot to go fishing.
Maybe the best way to cope with Dog Days is the old-fashioned way. Back before air conditioning was available, people knew this was a time to take it easy. Sitting outside after the sun went down, spending the night on a sleeping porch, sipping iced tea in the shade, or soaking in a creek were all ways of coping with the heat. Some women kept their perfume bottles in the refrigerator. One man revealed that he placed plastic bags of frozen vegetables between his sheets a few minutes before bedtime.
Clare and I each have a reusable ice pack that we keep in the freezer. They are intended to sooth the ordinary aches and pains that are a part of grand-parenting. During the Dog Days an ice pack provides blessed relief for me after a couple of hours of gardening or for Clare after housecleaning.
Returning from a trip to Tennessee several years ago, Clare and I stopped for gasoline at a convenience store. As I stood at the counter to pay for a tank of gas, a rough-hewn mountain man ahead of me purchased two cold beers, then requested a plastic cup and a plastic bowl. When I left the store, I caught a glimpse of the man sitting in the shade of a large sycamore tree. Next to him was a big red dog. The man opened both bottles of beer, pouring one in the cup for himself and the other in the bowl for his pet. As I pumped gasoline into my car, I saw the man finish his beer and the dog lap the bowl dry before they both stretched out on the grass beneath the tree for a nap.
Dog Days indeed!

FOR ALL LEFT-HANDERS AND THOSE WHO LOVE THEM

August 13, 2015
Leon Fleisher -left hand

Today, August 13, 2015, is National Left-handers Day. We all know someone who is a lefty. Perhaps athletes come to mind first. Rightfully so, because there have been many.

Fans of the National Football League will call to mind several outstanding quarterbacks. Mark Brunell, Boomer” Esiason, Kenny Stabler, and Steve Young are joined by current players Tim Tebow and Michael Vick. But there were other gridiron greats including Gayle Sayers.

Fans of the National Basketball Association will recall the left-handed talents of Larry Bird, Dave Cowens, Chris Mullen, Sam Perkins, Lenny Wilkins, and a trio of big men who played center – Willis Reed, Bill Russell, and Bill Walton. I cannot leave out Coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell from the basketball list of lefties.

Tennis enthusiasts will remember the left-handed competitive prowess of Jimmy Connors, Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, and Monica Seles.

Lefty golfers currently on the Professional Golf Association tour include Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and Mike Weir.

Boxers on the list of lefties include James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, Marvin Hagler, and Oscar de la Hoya. Other athletes include swimmer Olympian Mark Spitz and soccer great Pelé -Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

In Major League Baseball history the list of left-handers reads like a Hall of Fame lineup dominated by south-paw pitchers. Steve Carlton, Whitey Ford, Lefty Grove, Ron Guidry, Carl Hubbell, Randy Johnson, Tommy John, Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, Lefty Gomez, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, and Fernando Valenzuela all hurled from the first base side of the pitching mound. Position players, many known for their slugging percentage, include lefties Wade Boggs, Mickey Mantle, Lou Brock, Brett Butler, Ty Cobb, Lenny Dykstra, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Reggie Jackson, David Justice, Don Mattingly, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Deion Sanders, and Ted Williams. To round out the lineup add managers Casey Stengel, and Tommy Lasorda.

Many left-handed people have excelled in athletics, but so, too, have their left-handed colleagues in other fields of endeavor. Left-handed Authors James Baldwin, Peter Benchley, Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells, Jessamyn West, and Eudora Welty are on the list.

Left-handed musicians include among many others Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Glen Campbell, Natale Cole, Kurt Cobain, Phil Collins, Bela Fleck, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Cole Porter, Lou Rawls, and Paul Simon. Two of the four Beatles are lefties, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr. Brothers Don and Phil Everly were both left-handed.

Among artists some of the greatest were left-handed – Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Comedians on the list include Don Adams, Dan Aykroyd , Carol Burnett, George Burns, Charlie Chaplin, George Gobel, Whoopie Goldberg, Howie Mandel, Marcel Marceau, Harpo Marx, Richard Pryor, Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld, and Dick Smothers.

Among actors the list is very long. Some of the more familiar are Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Olivia de Havilland, Robert DeNiro, Richard Dreyfuss, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Betty Grable, Cary Grant, Mark Hamill, Goldie Hawn, Angelina Jolie, Danny Kaye, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Michael Landon, Peter Lawford, Cleavon Little, Shirley MacLaine, Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, Ryan O’Neal, Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Slyvester Stallone, Rod Steiger, Dick Van Dyke, Bruce Willis, Oprah Winfrey, and Joanne Woodward.

Estimates are that somewhere between ten and thirty present of all people are left-handed. It only stands to reason that a number of leaders in all facets of life would be lefties. For example, eight of our forty-four United States Presidents have been left-handed.  They are James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Other notable leaders from this country include Senator Bill Bradley, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Forbes, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Senator Daniel Inouye, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Senator Alan Keyes, Senator John McCain, Secretary Robert S. McNamara, Col. Oliver North, H. Ross Perot, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Senator Hugh Scott, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, and Senator Bob Dole.

Left-handers have played a promenade role in world history. Joan of Arc, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Napoléon Bonaparte, and Josephine de Beauharnais Were all lefties. King Louis XVI of France was left-handed. Among the British royal family left-handers were common including Queen Victoria, King George II, King George VI, Prince Charles, and Prince William.

Both Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are lefties.

Astronauts Edwin Buzz Aldrin and Wally Schirra are left-handed as were Henry Ford, Helen Keller, and Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, was left-hand dominate.

Interestingly both Jay Leno and David Letterman are reported to be left-handed. So, too, is exercise guru Richard Simmons.

Journalists Dave Barry, Edward R. Murrow, and Ted Koppel are lefties. Brother and sister, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Caroline Kennedy, are on the list.

Attorneys Clarence Darrow, F. Lee Bailey, and Melvin Belli are left-handed, as are several on the other side of the law – John Dillinger, a notorious bank robber, the Boston Strangler, Albert Henry DeSalvo, serial killer Jack-the-Ripper, and John Wesley Hardin, a famed Western gunslinger.

As you can see, there are no small numbers of notable left-handers.

I want to share the story of one remarkable left-hander.

Leon Fleisher, a renowned pianist and conductor, was born in San Francisco.  He started taking piano lessons at age four.  He made his debut at age eight.  At age sixteen, he played with the New York Philharmonic.  He studied with Artur Schnabel. Leon Fleisher was the first American to win the Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition in Belgium.

Fleisher collaborated with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra to record a series of piano concertos from Beethoven and Brahms. He is the only pianist to record all of Beethoven’s concertos.  He gave recitals on the great stages of the world.

In 1964, Fleisher’s illustrious career was interrupted by the onset of Focal Dystonia.  “My right hand turned to stone,” he said.  The fingers of his right hand curled into a permanent fist.  He could no longer play the piano.  To all in the music world it seemed to be a tragedy of major proportions.

Leon Fleisher changed careers.  He became a teacher.  He taught at the Peabody Conservatory and at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, Canada.  He has taught master classes in piano in Salsburg, Paris, Jerusalem, New York, Lucerne, and Aspen.  He has taught classical piano to hundreds of students.  His students are faculty members at many of the major schools of music in North America.

While teaching, he developed his skills as a conductor.  In 1973, he became conductor of the Baltimore Symphony.  Since that time, he has been a guest conductor with symphony orchestras in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Montreal, Saint Paul, and San Francisco.

Limited to the use of only his left hand, beginning in 1980, Leon Fleisher returned to the piano.  He performed a number of concerts using only a left-handed repertoire.  The American composer, William Bolcom, composed a concerto for two pianos with Fleisher specifically in mind.  In 1994, he was named Instrumentalist of the Year.  He has received numerous honorary doctorates and is the recipient of the Johns Hopkins President’s Medal.

A few years ago, Fleisher began receiving treatments on his clenched right hand.  Using Botox injections and massage therapy, physicians were eventually able to restore to Leon Fleisher use of his right hand.  In 2004, his first two-handed recording in over 40 years was released.  Produced by Vanguard Classics, the album is simply entitled, Two Hands.  It has received worldwide critical acclaim.  Nathaniel Kahn produced a short documentary also entitled, Two Hands which was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Short Subject.  It is the story of the remarkable life of Leon Fleisher.

The life story of Leon Fleisher parallels that of many other people.  His rapid rise to success followed by a debilitating illness might have caused a lesser person to give up.  Instead, Fleisher changed careers, becoming an outstanding teacher and then a conductor.  He continued to make his music even with just his left hand, then modern medicine restored his amazing talent.

Though he is not a left-hander in the usual sense of that term, Leon Fleisher’s determination to overcome an major interruption in his life is inspiring. Here is a video of Fleisher playing to packed stadium a part of the Concerto for the left hand written by Maurice Ravel. Ravel composed 1929 for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein who lost his right arm during World War I. The video is less than five minutes. A longer version is available on YouTube. You may be amazed as I was.Enjoy.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH SHARKS

August 8, 2015
SHARK

A couple of weeks ago Halifax Media Services, parent company of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, carried an editorial entitled “A Day at the Beach.” The column came in the wake of eight shark attacks along the North Carolina coast within a few weeks in early summer. Many folks became afraid to go near the ocean along the Carolina coast. The editorial went on to report there are an average of nineteen shark attacks each year in the United States and an average of only one fatality every two years according to National Geographic.

People are more likely to die from falling out of bed, from falling off of a ladder, or from falling icicles than from sharks. Weather related trauma from heat, freezing, strong wind, or lightning strikes are more hazardous than sharks.

Compared to other animals, sharks are actually relatively safe for humans. For example, Cows cause the death of about twenty Americans each year, mostly from blunt-force trauma. Horses kill about twenty people annually in the United States alone. About thirty American deaths are caused by dogs each year. Jellyfish can claim the lives of up to forty people each year. Stinging insects kill about one hundred people in our country every year and that doesn’t include ants, especially fire ants, responsible for another fifty deaths annually.

World-wide Disease-carrying mosquitoes kill about 800,000 people every year. Snakes are responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths each year. Hippos claim the lives of 2,900 people around the world each year. Crocodiles kill about 2500 people across the world annually. The big cats – lions, tigers, leopards – combined kill less than two hundred people each year. The number one killer of humans year after year is not surprising. We are more likely to be the victim of other humans.

As far as shark deaths, I found this quote attributed to the World Wildlife Federation. “Using data on shark catches, discards and mortality rates worldwide, the researchers estimated that approximately 100 million sharks are killed per year by humans.”

Consider that in 2014 there were only three fatal shark attacks on humans world-wide.

“Jaws,” a 1975 film directed by Steven Spielberg, was based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name. I saw the movie on television just two days before I went deep sea fishing off the Outer Banks of North Carolina aboard the Albatross, a forty-five foot shallow-draw craft. All day long I thought of a line from the movie, “You’re gonna’ need a bigger boat.”

Two close encounters with sharks stand out in my memory, one when I was five years old, the second when I was fourteen.

When my grandparents visited the South Carolina coast, they didn’t rent an oceanfront house. In fact, they rarely saw the beach. They preferred Murrells Inlet.

In those days, the quiet fishing village offered few accommodations. The main attraction was the marina. Shrimp trawlers, charter boats, and a few privately owned vessels occupied the slips.

Black gnats and mosquitoes swarmed. The air was pungent with the smell of fish. At low tide, the pluff mud, alive with fiddler crabs, added to the odor. The aroma of Pappy’s cigar was like perfume mingled among the other smells.

The house that became Oliver’s Lodge was built in 1860, the same year South Carolina seceded from the Union. Now known as Oliver’s, it is the oldest restaurant on the Grand Strand.

Oliver’s Lodge was where Mammy and Pappy stayed on the coast. Pappy rented a bateau, a small fishing boat. Mammy perched in a rocker on the porch of the lodge and crocheted receiving blankets for her ever-increasing number of grandbabies.

I remember the time when I traveled to Murrells Inlet with Pappy, Mammy, and Uncle Wesley, the youngest of their nine children.

The men were going fishing. Uncle Wesley was determined to catch a shark. At five years of age, I was thrilled to be included on this adventure with two of my heroes.

Mammy was concerned that I might get sunburned. She insisted that I wear a long sleeved-shirt and blue jeans. She prevailed upon Pappy to buy a straw hat for me.

Mammy’s charge to Pappy was to bring us all back safely.

Wearing the new straw hat, I sat in the middle of the small wooden rowboat between Pappy and Uncle Wesley. Uncle Wesley, a strapping teenager, positioned himself between the oar locks. He did the rowing. We tried our luck in a deep saltwater creek that was winding through the marsh.

Pappy was casting with a rod and reel. I was jigging with a short cane pole. We both used shrimp for bait. Uncle Wesley used a contrived casting rig with a large hook, a piano wire leader, a copper float robbed from a toilet tank, and a chicken gizzard.

I caught a few small spots. Pappy landed two nice flounder and several sea trout.

Uncle Wesley had no luck, but he was persistent. Finally, he hooked a shark. He fought for thirty minutes or more, until the exhausted predator came next to the boat. Only the ominous looking dorsal fin was out of water.

Pappy said, “Cut him loose!”

Uncle Wesley wanted to savor his fine catch. “Just let me look at him.”

Pappy relented, “Drag him in the boat and hit him in the head with that oar.”

My uncle did just that.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for the size of the shark. It was every inch of five feet long! Uncle Wesley grabbed his trophy by the gill with his right hand. Standing up in the small boat, he lifted the rod high with his left hand. Several hard tugs and considerable rocking of the boat brought the big fish tumbling over the gunwale, thrashing into the bateau. The rough tail grazed my leg which was protected by blue jeans. Thank you, Mammy!

The boat pitched from side to side. Uncle Wesley clobbered him with the oar, striking the animal’s head which was just inches from his captor’s bare feet.

The shark was perfectly still. Only his gills moved as he labored to breathe. A fish out of water, he seemed to be in his death throes. The fierce creature looked much bigger in the small rowboat than he had seemed in the black brine.

For good measure, Uncle Wesley slammed the oar into the shark’s head a second time. The fish reacted violently, furious at the insult. Uncle Wesley pummeled him again. The monster bared his formidable teeth, prepared to attack.

I was sitting between Pappy and the fish. My grandfather reached over me, accidently knocking my new straw hat into the water. Pappy grasped the shark’s tail with both hands. Like a Scot hurling a caber at the Highland Games, in one motion he flung the fish out of the boat into the deep. The boat rocked dramatically, teetering almost to the point of tipping over. The shark disappeared below the surface.

My hat drifted away, floating with the tide toward the open sea. I started to climb overboard to retrieve my treasure. Pappy grabbed me with the same strong grip that had expelled the shark.

“Wesley, let’s get the hat.”

I think Pappy had in mind rowing to the hat. Uncle Wesley had different idea. He ripped off his tee shirt, dived overboard, and swam with the current toward the straw flotsam. Pappy took the oars and rowed, following his youngest son through the same current into which the ferocious shark had so recently vanished.

Mission accomplished! I got my hat back. Uncle Wesley caught a shark. Pappy got us back safely in time for a seafood supper. Best of all, we shared a great fish story!

The second encounter occurred when I was a sophomore in high school. After two heart attacks and a stroke, driving an automobile was difficult for my grandfather and unsafe for everybody in his path. I got a South Carolina driver’s license when I was fourteen. After that, I became Pappy’s designated driver.

One spring day Pappy took me out of school to take him fishing. We drove to Daytona Beach, Florida, and we fished for a week. Pappy’s doctor had told him that he could fish only every other day. He chartered a boat. On the off days, we drove all over Florida, going to spring training camps for major league baseball teams.

On fishing days we went on the boat to the Gulf Stream, angling for red snapper, bottom-dwelling fish. Our double hook baited with squid, we fished a few turns off the ocean bottom.

Pappy was an excellent fisherman. By the time he got his line to the bottom and cranked it up a few turns, he would have a fish. Because his arm was weak, he would hand me his rod and reel, and I would hand him mine. I reeled in the fish while he hooked another. Many times he had two snappers on the double hook.

In three days’ fishing, we caught red snapper, 600 hundred pounds worth, dressed, frozen, and put on ice.

We still had one day of fishing to go. We got to the boat early that last day. Pappy announced, “Cap’n, I want to go trolling today.”

We landed several king mackerel. Then we went further out to the Gulf Stream. We stopped moving for lunch. The clear blue water of the Gulf Stream was like glass. We were about twenty miles off the coast of Florida.

When we finished lunch, the second mate, a couple of years older than I, asked, “Wanna’ go swimming?”

“Go ahead,” Pappy said.

I stood on the transom and dived headfirst into the Gulf Stream. I swam in the warm water ten or fifteen minutes before climbing back into the boat.

As we continued trolling, we caught dolphins, some of the most colorful fish in the ocean. These are not porpoises. A dolphin is called mahi-mahi in Hawaii. They fight like a bream. Imagine having a twenty-pound bream on the end of your line.

I hooked a large bull dolphin. The fish darted back and forth. All of a sudden, it started running straight to the boat. I reeled as fast as I could trying to understand why the fish behaved so oddly.

Then I saw a dorsal fin rise up out of the water. The fish on my line was being chased by a ten-foot-long shark. The shark closed in, and the fish retreated. The shark followed, and the fish fled. I felt a strong thump and then dead weight on my line. The shark had cut the fish in half. I reeled in the head.

It took me a moment to realize; only minutes earlier I had been swimming with the sharks!

Before our vacation on Pawleys Island, one of our sons asked, “Dad, have you noticed that Shark Week on the Discovery Channel often coincides with our week at the beach?”

One late afternoon, the tide was coming in. I was swimming with our children just beyond the breakers. Riding up on a wave, I saw a mullet jump. The fish was being pursued! And then a dorsal fin arched in the waves just a few yards away! Thankfully, it was a porpoise!

I realized again that when I swim in the ocean, I am not alone.

TIME FOR TOMATOES

August 2, 2015
TOMATO SANDWICH

When Clare and I travel to our family vacation at Pawleys Island, we often stop for lunch at Thomas Café, one of our favorite eateries in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Clare usually orders shrimp and grits while I select flounder. Both plates are served with a side of fried green tomatoes.

A lifelong devotee of this Southern delicacy, I search high and low for unripe tomatoes during the week at Pawleys. In the summertime green tomatoes are scarce as hen’s teeth at roadside stands. In hot weather, even tomatoes that are picked green in the early morning soon start turning pink. Good fried tomatoes require the use of bright green fruit that is as firm as a potato.

Here is my recipe for fried green tomatoes. Caution: these have a kick and the preparation is messy. The flavor is worth it!

Kirk’s Spicy Fried Green Tomatoes is a classic Southern recipe. There are many variations. This is our favorite..

4 Large green tomatoes, (all green, no pink, hard as a rock)

2 Eggs

1 Cup buttermilk

1 Cup all-purpose flour

1 Cup cornmeal

Crushed red pepper flakes

Garlic powder

Coarsely ground salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper hummus

Jalapeño pimento cheese

Sour cream or goat cheese

Vegetable oil for frying

Dredging:

  • Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
  • You need to use four bowls.
  • Into the first bowl pour only half of the buttermilk, and dip tomato slices.
  • Into the second bowl put the flour only, and lightly dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • Into the third bowl whisk eggs and the rest of the buttermilk together, and dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • In the fourth bowl mix cornmeal with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, coarsely ground salt, and freshly ground pepper, and thoroughly coat tomato slices on both sides.

Cooking:

  • In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and bring to medium heat.
  • Place battered tomato slices into the frying pan in small batches, depending on the size of your skillet. Fry a few at a time.
  • Do not crowd the tomatoes. Give them plenty of room. They should not touch each other.
  • When the tomatoes are lightly brown, flip and fry them on the other side.
  • Drain them on paper towels.

Serving:

  • On individual plates, spoon a heaping tablespoon of roasted red pepper hummus.
  • Place the first fried green tomato in the hummus.
  • Stack the fried green tomatoes three or four high with a spoonful of jalapeño pimento cheese between slices.
  • Top with a dollop of sour cream. Goat cheese is also good on top.

We always enjoy delicious red tomatoes, however, served in various ways. Some folks swear by tomato pie. Others prefer the summer delight in salads of many varieties.

My specialty is Neely Soggy Tomato Sandwiches. In years past this was the sandwich of choice at the annual Neely Family Fourth of July Picnic. In our home we always enjoy this favorite kitchen sink sandwich while tomatoes are in season.

2 vine-ripe tomatoes

Duke’s Real Mayonnaise

6 slices of white bread

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

  • Take six slices of white bread. Don’t use anything that is good for you – just plain ole white sandwich bread.
  • Slather Duke’s Real Mayonnaise heavily on all six slices. Only use Duke’s. Use about twice as much mayonnaise as you ordinarily would.
  • Grind fresh black pepper on all six pieces of bread.
  • Stack thinly-sliced, vine-ripe tomatoes three layers deep on three pieces of the bread.
  • Salt the tomato slices.
  • Mash – not lightly press – the remaining three pieces of bread, mayonnaise side down, on top of the tomatoes.
  • Turn the sandwiches over and mash again.
  • Cut the three sandwiches in half. Let them come to room temperature.
  • Stand over the kitchen sink to enjoy these juicy sandwiches.

Until a hundred years ago some people thought the tasty red treat was poisonous. Long before it was considered fit to eat, it was grown exclusively as an ornamental garden plant. The mistaken idea that tomatoes were poisonous probably arose because they belong to a strange plant family. A nightshade plant, from the Latin word solanum, it includes the matura, mandrake, and belladonna, all considered poisonous.

Close relatives are paprika, chili pepper, potato, tobacco, and petunia. The unpleasant odor of tomato leaves and stems contributed to the idea that the fruits were unfit for food.

Tomatoes originated as wild plants in the tropical foothills of the Andes Mountains of Peru. Gradually, they were carried north into Central America. Because of the highly perishable nature of the fruit, the tomato was slow to be adopted as a cultivated plant by Native Americans. Mayans used the fruit in their cooking. Tomatoes were grown in Mexico by the sixteenth century. The Pueblo people believed that those who ate tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination.

Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century introduced the tomato to Europe.. Italians were the first Europeans to grow and eat tomatoes. Later the tomato was grown in English and Spanish gardens, not as food, but as a curiosity. The French gave it the name pomme d’amour, translated as love apple in English.

The earliest reference to tomatoes being grown in North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in South Carolina. They may have been introduced to our area from the Caribbean. By the mid-eighteenth century, tomatoes were grown on numerous Carolina plantations. Even then, they may have only been of ornamental interest.

Tomatoes were grown as food in New Orleans as early as 1812, no doubt because of French influence. Thomas Jefferson learned of tomatoes in France. The progressive Virginia farmer grew them at Monticello as early as 1781.

Tomatoes are now the most common garden vegetable in our country. Along with zucchini squash, tomatoes have a reputation for out-producing the needs of the grower. In 1986, Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma, grew the largest tomato on record. It weighed 7 pounds, 12 ounces.

Visitors to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center can view the largest tomato plant in the world. A Guinness World Record holder, the plant grows more than 32,000 golf ball-sized tomatoes, having a total weight of 1,151.84 pounds. The harvested tomatoes are served at Walt Disney World restaurants.

Tomatoes are regarded as one of the healthiest foods in our diet. Rich in vitamins A and C, tomatoes contain lycopene, a chemical that gives them, as well as watermelons and red grapefruit, their color. Lycopene, an antioxidant, helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Although the tomato is technically a fruit, a member of the berry group, it is also considered a vegetable. In fact, it is the state vegetable of New Jersey and Arkansas. Health experts claim that we need five to ten servings of vegetables and fruits every day. At this time of year, we should all take advantage of local homegrown tomatoes to meet our daily quota.

Before I retired I was often asked, “Preacher, do you have a vegetable garden?”

“No, I don’t,” I explained. “I have more fresh vegetables without a garden than I ever had when I planted a garden of my own.”

Church members kindly shared the bounty of their gardens with our household. Sometimes we would know whom to thank. At other times, these gifts were left anonymously on our doorstep.

Tomatoes are my special favorite. Several years ago I wrote these lines an expression of my gratitude.

God is great, God is good.

Let us thank Him for our food.

By His hand we all are fed.

Give us, Lord, our daily bread.

 

Wholegrain bread, rye, or lite,

A sourdough loaf, or just plain white.

And please, dear Lord, some Duke’s mayonnaise.

And homegrown tomatoes for these summer days.

 

Add lettuce, and bacon, or maybe cheese,

But especially, Lord, I ask You please,

For vine-ripe tomatoes, sliced thick and round

To make the best sandwich I’ve ever found.

 

On days that grow weary with muggy heat,

A soggy tomato sandwich just can’t be beat.

With a tall glass of something cold to drink,

I’ll eat my lunch over the kitchen sink.

 

I’m grateful for corn, that good Silver Queen,

For cantaloupe, peaches, and fresh green beans,

For squash, and okra, and small red potatoes,

But nothing is better than homegrown tomatoes.

 

God is great, and God is good.

Let us thank Him for our food.

I know His kindness never ends

When given tomatoes by special friends.

BLUE MOON

July 26, 2015
Blue_Moon_of_November_21_2010_viewed_from_Brooklyn_NY_USA_Canon_40D_Celestron_4SE

Back in the days before credit bureaus were the source of reliable information regarding the creditworthiness of an individual, small business owners depended on the experience of other entrepreneurs for such information. My father and my grandfather frequently received phone calls from other business folks requesting references on potential customers. Generally, the conversation was brief. As a teenage fly-on-the-wall I heard only one side of the exchange. I could sense what the call was about the moment the receiver was off the hook. The response was brief and to the point.

“Yes, he pays on time, every time.”

“He pays, but he’s a little slow.”

“He’s kinda’ hit-or-miss with us.”

One day I heard my dad answer such a call.

“He no longer has an account with us. He’d pay once in a blue moon.”

I wasn’t sure what once in a blue moon meant, but I could tell the phrase meant rarely. An older definition of blue moon is that it’s the third of four full moons in a single season – summer, fall, winter, spring. More recently, the name blue moon has been used for the second of two full moons in a single calendar month.

The idea of a blue moon as the second full moon in a month stemmed from the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, which contained an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett. Pruett was referring to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac, but he inadvertently simplified the definition. He wrote:

Seven times in 19 years there were — and still are — 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.

When thirteen full moons occur in one calendar year there will be two full moons in one calendar month.

Deborah Byrd of Earth and Sky magazine happened upon a copy of the old 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope in the stacks of the Peridier Library at the University of Texas Astronomy Department in the late 1970s. On her radio broadcasts she began using the term blue moon to describe the second full moon in a calendar month.

Later, this definition of blue moon was also popularized by a book for children by Margot McLoon-Basta and Alice Sigel, Kids’ World Almanac of Records and Facts, published in New York by World Almanac Publications, in 1985. The board game Trivial Pursuit also adopted this definition.

Can there be two blue moons in a single calendar year? Yes. It last happened in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. So both January and March had blue moons. The next year of double monthly blue moons is will be in January and March, 2018. After that, the double blue moons will appear in January and March, 2037.

Just how often does a blue moon occur? The time between one full moon and the next is twenty-eight days, a lunar month. So the only time one month can have two full moons is when the first full moon happens in the first few days of the month. This happens only about every two or three years. The last blue moon happened on August 31, 2012. Because the moon was full on July 2, 2015, the next blue moon will be this coming Friday, July 31, 2015.

Such infrequent natural occurrences have sparked the imagination of many cultures.

In the Southern Appalachian Mountains it is considered a good idea to pick flowers and berries during a blue moon. This is believed to bring more abundance, love, and beauty into your life.

There is an old English tradition that holds that if a housewife sees a blue moon and changes her bed coverings she will become more fertile.

An ominous belief among the Welsh maintains that if a member of the family dies during a blue moon, three more deaths will follow.

Within Eastern European Gypsy culture there is a belief that a person who sleeps with the blue moon shining on his or her face may go insane.

Usually the term blue moon really has nothing to do with color. However, it is possible, albeit extremely rare, to see an actual blue-colored moon. Over very dry desert landscapes, unusual atmospheric conditions where particles of dust or smoke create a filter for moonlight can give the appearance of a blue-tinted moon. Blue-colored moons aren’t predictable. Alas, most blue moons are not blue.

Still, artists from songwriters, to painters, to authors give us the impression that the blue moon really is blue in color. The Blue Moon Literary & Art Review headquartered in Davis, California, publishes poetry and fiction of all genres. The magazine features both artists and writers.

Blue Moon Rising is a novel by Simon R. Green that follows the exploits of Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom, Princess Julia of Hillsdown, his unicorn, and her dragon. The blue moon is the source of much that is magical in the novel.

In the field of music, one of the best known songs is, appropriately enough, the official bluegrass song of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was written by Bill Monroe in 1946, and was first recorded by Monroe playing mandolin and backed by his band the Blue Grass Boys. Kentucky was his home state. In this song he is heartbroken over a girl who left him, but he wishes her well.

Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and proved untrue

Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue

 

It was on a moonlight night

The stars were shining bright

And they whispered from on high

Your love has said good-bye

 

Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and said good-bye

 

The Billie Holiday jazz rendition of “Blue Moon” by Richard Rogers is about a lonely person who finds the one they love beneath a blue moon.

Blue Moon you saw me standing alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own

Blue Moon, you knew just what I was there for

You heard me saying a prayer for

Someone I really could care for.

 

And then there suddenly appeared before me

The only one my arms will ever hold

I heard somebody whisper ‘Please adore me’

And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold!

 

Blue Moon!

Now I’m no longer alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own.

 

The blue moon is certainly something we can look forward to next Friday night July 31, 2015. I can envision blue moon gatherings on decks and patios to mark the appearance of this lunar spectacle. I know that some will go so far as to use such an occasion to enjoy an ice cold Blue Moon. This crafted beer is now brewed in Western North Carolina as well as in Colorado. They are advertising “Enjoy a Blue Moon on the Blue Moon.”

And just how often will readers find such an ad repeated in this column?

Well, once in a blue moon.

MY FAVORITE ALL-STAR

July 18, 2015
Rocky Colivito

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game last Tuesday night rekindled my memories of a great baseball player who starred with the Spartanburg Peaches for only one season.

In the 1950s the Spartanburg Peaches was a minor league franchise of the Cleveland Indians. In those days, Duncan Park was considered one of the best minor league ballparks in the country. Even the seats in Duncan Park were legendary. They had once been used in Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.

The tall dark stranger strolling beneath the blooming dogwood trees in the spring of 1952 was enough to stop traffic on South Converse Street. He was a handsome eighteen-year-old Italian-American from New York City.

Rocco Domenico Colavito, Jr. was born in 1933, about the same time the Roosevelt Administration created the Civilian Conservation Corps to help the country recover from the Great Depression. CCC workers dug the hole and built the dam that created Duncan Park Lake. The dogwood trees were transplanted from the future lake bed to beautify South Converse Street.

Rocky, as he was known, was also a transplant. He was here from the Bronx to play baseball. He was a devoted fan of the New York Yankees. Joe DiMaggio was his boyhood hero. He came to our town as right fielder for the Spartanburg Peaches, and he lived in my grandmother’s house. Read more…

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