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October 4, 2015

Dean Stuart Campbell is known as the Squire of the Dark Corner. An author, lecturer, photographer, storyteller, and tour guide, Dean Campbell has the perspective of a native son whose maternal and paternal ancestors were early settlers in the Upstate. Campbell was the first to delineate the Dark Corner, the infamous mountain region in northwestern South Carolina, in his book, His Eyes to the Hills—A Photographic Odyssey of the Dark Corner.

Last Friday I attended an event at the Chapman Cultural Center. Dean Campbell was there to share his stories. Those gathered also saw clips of a movie featuring interviews with Dark Corner residents. I was able to connect with some of my own family history.

The first European settlers in the Southern Appalachian Mountains were primarily Scots-Irish, granted their lands from the King of England before the Revolutionary War. When these people immigrated to the American colonies, they already had an axe to grind with Great Britain.

Originally from Scotland, they had been transplanted to Northern Ireland in what was known as known as the Irish Plantation or the Plantation of Ulster. Land owned by Irish chieftains was confiscated by King James I of England and used to settle the Scottish colonists in Ireland beginning in 1609. The British required that these transplanted colonists be English-speaking and Protestant. The Scottish colonists of Ulster were mostly Presbyterian. Read more…


September 27, 2015

A rare astronomical phenomenon Sunday night will produce a moon that will appear slightly bigger than usual and have a reddish hue, an event known as a super blood moon.

It’s a combination of curiosities that hasn’t happened since 1982, and won’t happen again until 2033. A so-called super moon, which occurs when the moon is closest to earth in its orbit, will coincide with a lunar eclipse, leaving the moon in Earth’s shadow. Individually, the two phenomena are not uncommon, but they do not align often.

Most people are unlikely to detect the larger size of the  . It may appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter, but the difference is subtle to the plain eye. But the reddish tint from the lunar eclipse is likely to be visible throughout much of North America, especially on the East Coast.

“You’re basically seeing all of the sunrises and sunsets across the world, all at once, being reflected off the surface of the moon,” said Dr. Sarah Noble, a program scientist at NASA.

By Daniel Victor

New York Times

Sept. 25, 2015


September 26, 2015

On Facebook over the past several days I have seen posts from friends telling of the death of beloved pets. These notices are often accompanied by a picture of the animal with words expressing the sorrow of the family over the death of their four-legged friend.

I understand their sense of loss. In fact, my first experience of grief was the death of a beagle dog.

When I was nearly seven years old our growing family moved to a larger house. I was the oldest of what would eventually become a family of eight children. Our new home was surrounded by open fields on three sides and deep woods in back. Our house was on a red dirt road with no neighbors in sight. Though Mama had her hands full caring for our family, Dad knew that it was time for me to have a dog.

My birthday was approaching. One Saturday morning Dad and I went the local feed and seed store to buy chicken scratch for our laying hens. As I walked in the door I saw a temporary cage with six beagle pups for sale. The handwritten cardboard sign read, “YOUR CHOICE $5.”

While dad got the sack of cracked corn for the chickens, I squatted down beside the cage. The tricolor puppies became excited, pushing and shoving each other with tails wagging. I put my fingers through the wire cage to pet them. One little beagle started licking my hand.

Dad asked, “Kirk, you want a dog for your birthday?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“You know the dog will belong to you. You’ll have to take care of it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dad paid for the sack of chicken feed, a bag of puppy chow, and the beagle dog. The clerk told me to pick out my dog. I choose the one who had licked my hand. I named her Katie. Read more…


September 19, 2015

The arrival of fall with the promise of cooler weather is the prime season for yard sales all across the Upstate. Last Saturday I drove past several homes with their treasures gleaned from the attic, the garage, or the basement displayed on front lawns and driveways. Devotees search the newspaper for locations of weekend sales. Avid shoppers may arrive before daylight to search by flashlight through long-stored collections of broken or discarded items. These rabid fanatics really do believe that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.
Several years ago, my large extended family held a combined yard sale at Christmastime. We were successful in selling almost all of our junk, but we bought as much as we sold. We purchased items from each other and spent the afternoon hauling the stuff procured from our siblings back to our own homes.
Scriptures admonish us “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”
My personal commentary on the Holy Writ is better translated: Do not pack your grandfather’s old cow barn slam full of all kinds of stuff that you think you might someday need. Moth and rust may destroy, mice and squirrels may break in and build nests, and mold and mildew may invade.
And sooner or later you’ll have to clean out the place!
That is exactly what I did. With lots of help from energetic teenagers, I cleaned out my barn. I found five P.H.D.’s – posthole diggers. One pair, purchased in Louisville, Kentucky, forty years ago, had a broken handle. The second I bought in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I inherited a pair from my father-in-law, Mr. Jack, and another from my Uncle Asbury. The fifth, I borrowed from my dad when I was unable to find any of the other four.
I hauled four pickup loads of trash to the dump and contributed three loads of assorted items to a church yard sale. Read more…


September 13, 2015

Though I am not a hunter, many of my friends and relatives are. The beginning of dove season is eagerly anticipated by those who take to the open fields, shotgun in hand. In fact many of these sportsmen and women look forward to bird hunting as much or more than to the opening kickoff of football season. Their zeal is further heightened when quail season opens in late November. With those people in mind, I share the following story.
Some stories are meant to be told rather than written; they are far better heard than read. This is such a story.
I sat with my friend Frank Nantz in a hospital room shortly before his death. He asked me to write this story for him.
I wish you, the reader, could have heard Frank narrate this account in person. His Chesnee accent, his unique dialect, made the telling far more delightful than I can ever achieve through the printed word. I relate the story in the first person, as if Frank were telling it.
I worked for Foremost Dairies over twenty-one years. I started out driving a milk truck. Later, I was promoted to supervisor and then to sales manager. Eventually, the company decided to send me to be a plant manager in Sylacauga, Alabama. I explained that I didn’t want to go to Sylacauga, Alabama, or to anywhere else. I wanted to stay in Spartanburg County.
My wife, our two daughters, my mother and father, my mother-in-law and father-in-law didn’t want us to leave. I had fifty head of cattle on my farm in the northern end of the county, which I refer to as a plantation. My cattle didn’t want me to leave either. When I told my company I wasn’t going to Sylacauga, Alabama, I was offered more money. I assured them that it wouldn’t be enough to get me to move.
Because I refused to relocate, Foremost Dairies sent me to Jacksonville, Florida, for an evaluation. I met with Melvin Reid, Ph.D., for the better part of an afternoon. His office was on the top floor of the Gulf Life Building.
Dr. Reid gave me a test that asked five hundred of the silliest questions I have ever heard in all my life. Do you vomit at the sight of blood? Do dirty hands make you sick? Would you rather be an airplane pilot or a coal miner? Do you love your father more than your mother?
I did well on many of the questions about current events. I read a lot, and I enjoyed answering those questions. Some of the questions were just plain ridiculous. Question Number 178 asked: If you found a bird with a broken wing, would it make you sad? I studied that question a few moments. I decided to leave it blank.
I finished the test. Dr. Reid looked over my answers, then slid his glasses down to the end of his nose like an old maid schoolteacher.
“Mr. Nantz, you didn’t answer Question Number 178.”
I explained that Question Number 178 did not give enough information.
Dr. Reid looked down at his notes for several minutes. He read the question aloud, “If you found a bird with a broken wing, would it make you sad?”
He asked, “Mr. Nantz, how much more information do you need?”
“I need to know what kind of bird you’re asking me about.”
“Mr. Nantz, please tell me why it matters what kind of bird has a broken wing?”
I answered, “Dr. Reid, you’ve been cooped up in this big Gulf Life Building too long. You need to get out more.”
Dr. Reid slid those little glasses back down to the end of his nose. “Mr. Nantz, I want to hear your explanation. I’ve got all afternoon.”
Sitting with Dr. Reid at the top of the Gulf Life Building, I explained.
“Travel east on Cannon’s Camp Ground Road in Spartanburg County, you will see bluebird boxes, some on fence posts, some on telephone poles. Turn left on Highway 110, near Cowpens. Continue to the county line. You will arrive at my farm. All along that stretch of road, I have put bluebird boxes that I have built. I clean them out each winter and keep them fixed up each year. I refer to that road as the Frank Nantz Bluebird Trail.
Dr. Reid, if I was walking my bluebird trail and found a little bluebird with a broken wing, I would pick that bird up in my hands. It would break my heart. I might even cry.
“Now, Dr. Reid, I have a bird dog, a fine pointer named Tonya. I love to go quail hunting. Tonya can flush a covey of quail better than any dog I have seen. With my pump shotgun, I have hit as many as five quail in one covey on the rise.
Dr. Reid, my bird dog and I will ramble through bramble briars and blackberry vines until we find those quail. I take those little dead birds and put them in the pocket of my hunting jacket. If one of those quail is still alive but has a broken wing, I wring her neck and put her into that big pocket in my jacket with the others.
Dr. Reid, I don’t feel one bit sad about that because those quail will soon be my supper.”
In his evaluation of Frank Nantz, Dr. Reid was complimentary. His recommendation to Foremost Dairies regarding Frank:
“Do not let this man leave your company. Do not send him to Sylacauga, Alabama. Let him stay in Spartanburg County. His wife, his two daughters, his parents, his in-laws, and fifty head of cattle all want him to stay. And while a few quail might like to see him leave, many more bluebirds want him to stay right where he is.”


September 5, 2015

After working in my flower beds for several hours, I pulled off my garden gloves, stretched my creaky knees, and sat in the shade, sipping a tall glass of ice water with lemon. I had spent much of the morning fighting the never ending battle with encroaching weeds. My adversaries were mostly grasses – menacing crab grass, insidious nut grass, and sinister Bermuda grass.
My weapon of choice in my ongoing war against these invasive enemies is a Korean trowel I found at a home and garden show in Charlotte years ago. It is well-suited to the task. Welded like a short mattock, the sharp point digs deep to extract the roots of these stubborn foes. At the same time the handy implement loosens and cultivates the soil around desirable plants. My dad used to say, “About ninety percent of any job is having the right tool.” The Korean trowel is the perfect example of that adage.
Because it is so effective the simple instrument slings dirt in all directions. Resting beneath towering oak trees, I moistened a red bandana with the condensation from the sides of the glass of cold water. I wiped my face and neck with the cool damp cloth, leaving the rag covered with grime.
My thoughts turned to my dad and the lessons he taught about work. I can still hear him saying, “Hard work never hurt anybody.”
I recalled the last time I talked with him at the lumberyard, he was eighty-seven and doing well. He had worked hard all of his life. Father of eight, grandfather of fifty-four, and great grandfather to a rising tide, Dad had to work hard.
“Raising eight children takes a lot of groceries,” he said, stating the obvious.
Dad worked at the lumberyard since he was big enough to load a truck and unload a boxcar. At eighty-seven, he still went to the lumberyard every day for a few hours.
He learned the value of hard work from his mother and father, my grandparents.
My grandfather, I called him Pappy, was born in Tennessee in 1889. Following the death of his father in a railroad accident, he dropped out of school in the eighth grade to support his mother and three siblings. Enlisting in the United States Navy at age nineteen, Pappy served four years in Cuba at the naval base in Guantanamo. Upon his discharge, he returned to Tennessee and worked for a telegraph company as a lineman. His company sent him to the Lowcountry of South Carolina to do the electrical wiring for a sawmill. During a cakewalk at the Methodist church in Estill, he met the woman who would become his wife and my grandmother, Mammy.
In 1923, Pappy and Mammy moved to Spartanburg where he opened his own lumberyard.
During the Great Depression, they lost everything. With grit and faith, they raised nine children, sweet potatoes, and turkeys on a rented red clay farm in Cedar Springs. Every person in the family had to work.
Following the Depression, Pappy opened another lumberyard, a family business that stayed in operation until 2009.
When I was a boy, wanting to work at the lumberyard was a natural choice. The men I admired most – Dad and Pappy and five uncles – worked there.
My dad told me I could have a job, but added, “Before you can work at the lumberyard, you have to learn to work for your mama.”
Working for my mother was harder than working anywhere else. She always had plenty of chores to parcel out to her children. As the oldest of eight, I was expected to set the example.
I can still hear the reverberating echo of her warning, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.”
Finally! I got the promotion and started working at the lumberyard the summer following the seventh grade. I was thirteen years old and weighed no more than a hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet. I will never forget that first day on the job.
My dad put me to the task of unloading an old boxcar filled with ninety-six-pound bags of cement. In the sweltering heat, the single-door boxcar, became more stifling as the morning progressed. In those days nothing was palletized, and forklifts were not yet available. All the cement had to be removed by hand – one bag at the time – stacked on hand trucks, rolled up a ramp, and loaded into a warehouse.
My dad knew that I needed a good teacher to show me how to work. Charlie Norman became my instructor. I don’t know how old he was at the time I started working with him. When I asked one day, he said he was as old as dirt. I didn’t ask again, but I knew he was very old. He had been working for my grandfather since before the Depression, delivering lumber in a one-horse wagon.
Charlie loaded those bags of cement, nearly a hundred pounds of dead weight, eight or nine high on hand trucks and rolled them up a ramp. I could pile no more than three bags onto the hand trucks at one time, and it was all I could do to pull the load up the ramp.
By about ten o’clock that morning, I was drenched with sweat and covered with sticky cement. Charlie peeled off his shirt, exposing his glistening ebony skin. Though he was an old man, his muscles were toned by hard work. He looked like a bodybuilder.
We took a half-hour break for the noon meal, not nearly enough time for me. I walked into the office, bone tired, and stood in front of a large exhaust fan for a few minutes.
Pappy saw me, dripping wet and trying to cool down, and said, “Kirk, if you get enough education you can work in the shade.” It was a lesson I have never forgotten.
That afternoon Charlie got his second wind. At first he whistled in a low whisper, but then began singing low under his breath, “We’ll work till Jesus comes.”
Dad and I got home that night a little after six o’clock. I took a shower while Mama finished preparing a special meal of fried chicken, rice, and gravy. When I fell asleep at the supper table, Dad guided me to bed and had a prayer with me. At five o’clock the next morning he woke me up for my second day at the lumberyard.
I worked all summer long, earning the grand sum of two dollars a day.
I asked Dad years later why he started me with such a difficult job.
“I wanted you to learn that this business is hard work. Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
I also asked why he paid me so little.
He grinned, “Be glad I didn’t pay you what you were worth.”
The idea of a forty-hour work week never caught on at the lumberyard.
“It ain’t in the Bible,” Pappy said. “God said, ‘Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work.’ And the Lord said, ‘There are twelve hours in a day.’ Anybody who can figure knows that’s seventy-two hours given to work.”
As much as I appreciated working with the men I admired, as much as I enjoyed talking with customers, and as much as I delighted in driving a three-ton lumber truck, that summer was important because I learned the nobility of work.
Though Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894, it was never a holiday at the lumberyard when I was a boy. I remember it as the day the Southern 500 stock car race was run in Darlington, South Carolina.
Now Labor Day is a reminder of how I learned to work so many years before.
And you know what? I didn’t have to work at a lumberyard very long before I heard the Lord calling me to do something else.

South Carolina Barbecue

August 30, 2015

Clare and I were invited to attend a cookout at a beautiful lakeside home in the mountains. We stood on the patio with a group of friends enjoying the view across the water to the hills beyond. Our host was basting a Boston butt, a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the pig’s shoulder.
“What are you grilling?” a lady asked.
“Please don’t call it grilling,” the cook requested emphatically. “This separates hard-core barbecue enthusiasts from the uneducated novice. Think of the difference in romantic terms. Grilling is a quick, hot fling with a hamburger or a hot dog. Barbecuing is a long-term relationship. You have to spend a lot of time rubbing spices into a rack of ribs or a pork shoulder. Then you spend hours over a smoky wood fire. It’s a lot like making love. The real experts take it slow and easy!”
Blushing, the lady said, “My ex only knew how to grill. Maybe my next husband will be good at barbecue!”
Our host’s description gave us a new appreciation for the fine art of preparing genuine Southern barbecue.
Barbecue restaurants are among the most popular eateries in South Carolina. Some have operated for decades while there are newer ones arriving almost weekly. Those who are connoisseurs of barbecue know that the various types share a rich history. The Spanish first introduced the pig into the Americas and to the American Indians. The Indians, in turn, introduced the Spanish to cooking with smoke in a pit.
The first colony on the American mainland was in what is now South Carolina. Spanish adventurers were Conquistadores in search of gold. Spanish colonists came later in the early 1500s. They named their colony Santa Helena. It was established in the area that we now call Port Royal in Beaufort County. The colony lasted almost 20 years. In that first American colony Europeans learned to prepare and to eat slow-cooked pork.
The name barbecue derives from the word barabicu found in the language of both the Timucua of Florida and the Taíno people of the Caribbean. The word means sacred firepit.
Although barbecue is rooted in Dixie, most Americans do not have a clue about Southern barbecue. Lake E. High, Jr., President of the South Carolina Barbecue Association, makes a clear distinction between grilled food and genuine barbecue.
High goes further to explain that many kinds of meat can be barbecued. Barbecued chicken, barbecued beef, barbecued turkey, barbecued mutton, and even barbecued possum are among the possibilities. Don’t even think about the barbecue Big George made out of Frank Bennett in the novel and movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fanny Flagg!
High explains that because of its origins barbecue as a stand-alone noun can only be used properly to designate pork. Westerners enjoy barbecued beef, but it cannot rightly be referred to as barbecue. It must be called barbecued beef. To use barbecue as a noun can only mean pork.
Lewis Grizzard, the late columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had open heart surgery to replace a coronary valve. The surgeon inserted a valve from a pig’s heart.
“Doesn’t it bother you to think that you have a pig’s valve in your heart?” Grizzard was asked.
“Not really,” he said, “but every time I drive past a barbecue place, my eyes water.”
Grizzard must have shed many a tear in his travels across the South.
Barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-q, BBQ: there are as many spellings as there are kinds of barbecue. Purists insist that genuine barbecue be cooked in an open pit or a wood or charcoal smoker. They are adamant that neither lighter fluid nor aluminum foil ever be a part of the barbecue process. They want their pork cooked the way their ancestors did.
High, a certified barbecue judge, says that each cook develops a recipe for the rub used to prepare the meat, but it is the sauce that distinguishes between the four varieties. South Carolina is home to all four.
All Southern barbecue falls into one of these four categories: vinegar, mustard, light tomato, heavy red.
Slaves brought with them from the Caribbean a taste for red peppers. In the Southern colonies barbecue sauce became part of the cuisine when spices and peppers were combined with vinegar. In eastern North Carolina pork seasoned with vinegar and peppers is a favorite. When we visit my brother Bill and his wife Wanda, we enjoy a barbecue plate at B’s Barbecue in Greenville, North Carolina. B serves fine vinegar-based pulled pork. The Scottish families who settled the Lowcountry were the South Carolinians who used vinegar and pepper barbecue sauce adapted from the slaves. Dr. Walter Edgar told me that he traveled fifty miles to speak to a Camden Garden Club because he was promised five pounds of McCabe’s barbecue as his honorarium.
German immigrants settled in the Midlands of South Carolina, especially in the Dutch Fork area. Those families received land grants on the Broad, Congaree, Saluda, and Santee Rivers. They brought with them their Lutheran faith and their taste for spicy mustard, which soon found its way into barbecue sauce. Many people know Maurice Bessinger. His sauce is a staple in southern grocery stores.
Clare and I frequently return to her birthplace, Leesville, South Carolina. There we enjoy Shealy’s buffet and Jackie Hite’s pulled pork. As we travel to our family vacation on Pawley’s Island, we often stop at Wise in Newberry County and take a supply of their barbecue in an ice chest to the beach. For Clare and her kin only mustard-based barbecue is considered the real thing.
The third type of sauce is light tomato sauce made from vinegar and pepper with tomato ketchup added. It is the sauce famous in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Lexington, North Carolina, is the acknowledged center for light tomato sauce.
North Carolina has declared the month of October as Barbecue Month. In the final two weeks of the month the town of Lexington hosts the Barbecue Festival. The last two Saturdays feature an annual North Carolina Championship Pork Cook-Off. Last year an estimated crowd of 150,000 attended the event. The popularity of light tomato barbecue has spread into the Pee Dee region of South Carolina.
The fourth variety is heavy red sauce featured by the Beacon Drive-In located in my hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. I was in the place recently and witnessed two fellows from Pennsylvania reading the formidable menu. Dazed and confused by the array of choices, one asked me, “What are you having?”
“My favorite is an outside.” My answer didn’t help. They were more baffled than before. I showed it to them on the menu and explained.
“An outside is a barbecue sandwich. The meat is pulled from the outside of the pork shoulder, the part that has been basted and cooked to a mouthwatering crust. They put a little cole slaw on top and add heavy red sauce. If you don’t have gall bladder trouble, get an outside-a-plenty. They’ll cover up the sandwich with French fries and onion rings.”
“Is it really good?” he asked.
I noticed his Penn State sweatshirt. “You’ll be whistling ‘Dixie’ all the way back to Happy Valley.”
When Spartanburg native William Ball was Secretary of the Navy he asked John White, then owner of the Beacon, to cater a meal for three hundred sailors onboard a naval destroyer in the Mediterranean Sea. Beacon Barbecue was transported by helicopter to the ship.
The Beacon hosted the Inaugural Luncheon for Governor Donald Russell, a Spartanburg native, at the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia in 1963. Southern barbecue has been served to numerous Presidential candidates visiting the Beacon and to military personnel around the world. Southern Living, Sandlapper, and Gourmet are among the magazines to feature Beacon barbecue. Charles Kuralt broadcast a segment on the Beacon in his “On the Road” television series.
The popularity of heavy red sauce has spread throughout the nation because of the insatiable sweet tooth of the modern American. Heavy red is featured at Neely’s Barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee. Pat and Gina Neely have one of the most successful barbecue restaurants in the south. Their television program “Down Home with the Neelys,” is broadcast on the Food Channel. Pat happens to be African-American. My brother Bill visited the Memphis restaurant, and he and Pat figured out that we are all distant cousins.
When it comes to barbecue, most Southerners have an impassioned preference. Joe Crook, owner of Pig Out in Spartanburg County, offers his customers both a mustard-based and a tomato-based sauce. Harold Jennings, owner of Bull Hawg’s has developed his own special sauce that combines vinegar and tomato with other spices.
Preparing good Southern barbecue is a labor intensive endeavor. One characteristic of the best barbecue restaurants is that the owner can almost always be found on location. Before her death in 2011, Sarah Shealy was almost always at her cash register in Leesville checking out customers one by one just as John White did for so many years at the Beacon in Spartanburg. Jackie Hite, Joe Crook, and Harold Jennings take a hands-on approach to cooking the barbecue they serve. Clare and I have been impressed at the time, effort, and loving care these master chefs put into their work.
While good barbecue places are in high demand, some folks prefer to prepare and cook their own meat at home. Maurice Pace has a large homemade wood-burning cooker. On holidays he fires it up with split oak and hickory logs.
One November several years ago he issued an invitation. “Why don’t you come down the day before Thanksgiving, and we’ll smoke a few turkeys and barbecue some ribs?”
“I have a problem smoking turkeys,” I said.
“What’s the problem?”
“I can’t figure out which end to light!”


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