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July 26, 2015

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.


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…


July 11, 2015

Every summer something happens in our garden that is nothing short of miraculous. I have seen it recently while Clare and I sipped our morning coffee on the back porch. A large tiger swallowtail fluttering from purple cone flowers to orange zinnias to pink phlox also sipped an early drink from each blossom. The bright yellow wings of the butterfly caught the fresh sunlight adding a touch of beauty to the flowers. The miracle of metamorphosis had happened yet again this year in our backyard.

It’s the season for caterpillars and for butterflies. By late summer, my garden is aflutter with butterflies of all varieties. Once they take wing, they are drawn to flowering plants that provide a feast of nectar.

Creating a butterfly garden requires a little planning and some maintenance. It is well worth the effort. Among butterfly favorites are ageratum, aster, butterfly bush, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, catmint, coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, goldenrods, honeysuckle, hyssop, lantana, marigold, phlox, salvia, sedum, verbena, yarrow, and zinnia. Read more…


July 4, 2015

My mother was born July 4, 1922. When I was a little boy, I was impressed that on her birthday, everybody took the day off. The entire Neely family, as many as fifty-six of us, gathered at the farm for the afternoon. We enjoyed a picnic featuring fried chicken, soggy tomato sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad, deviled eggs, and blackberry cobbler. We went swimming in the pond. Some tried fishing, but the mosquitoes bit more than the fish. After a supper of leftovers, we watched as our uncles put on a fireworks display.

Because it was Mama’s birthday, it took me a while to realize that all of the festivities were not in her honor. Instead, we were celebrating the birth of our nation.

In 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. The American colonies officially separated themselves from the authority of England.

When I was a student at Cooperative School, one of my teachers required the class to memorize a brief passage from the Declaration. At the family picnic, those who knew the selection repeated it by heart. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The importance of the Declaration can be underestimated even by the most loyal Americans. Students in a sociology class designed a research project. They printed out the words of the Declaration of Independence and placed copies of the document on clipboards. Without identifying the document as the Declaration, the students invited people at a shopping mall, to read and sign the petition. Most people refused to sign their name. They thought the document was too radical and would incite too much conflict.

The fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were committing an act of treason against King George III. Though the names Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and Jefferson are familiar, few residents of the Palmetto State can name the four South Carolinians who placed their signatures on this document. They were Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., and Arthur Middleton. Read more…


June 27, 2015

In the aftermath of what has become known as the Charleston Massacre, there has been no shortage of opinions regarding the placement of the Confederate Battle Flag at a Confederate Memorial on the grounds of the State House in Columbia. In my view much of the debate has been political rhetoric “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” My personal reflections on these events, including a remarkable eulogy for the Reverend Senator Clementa C. Pinckney by President Obama, have caused me to ponder the meaning of all this for me and my family.

My prayer has been framed around two familiar passages. One attributed to St Francis of Assisi; “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…” The other from a song; “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

This column is a personal reflection on the relationship between my Southern Heritage and what I hope will be my Southern Legacy. The attached picture is of me at about two-years old sitting on the knee of my great-grandfather, Robert E Lee Woodward. I submit these words with the hope that my own experience may carry a ring of truth in the lives of others.

Last week I sat with a good friend in his office. He is an avid Civil War afficionado. He has portraits of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the wall opposite his desk. One of his relatives was a courier in General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The ancestor was one of the soldiers charged with the final responsibility of delivering documents pertaining to the terms of surrender, signed by Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

My friend and I share a sense of pride in our Southern heritage. Our conversation turned to the tragic deaths of nine people at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the previous Wednesday.

My friend said wistfully, “It looks like they’re gonna’ use this horrible act by a deranged person as a reason to take down our flag. I wish somebody would explain to me how a limp piece of cloth hanging from a flagpole could cause such a thing.” Read more…


June 21, 2015

I have developed the habit of working the daily crossword puzzle in the local newspaper. It was something my grandfather did every day, always using a pen instead of a pencil. Though Pappy had only an eighth-grade education he was an avid reader. He read Time and Newsweek magazines cover-to-cover each week. He read every issue of National Geographic Magazine each month. He read the newspaper and the Bible every day. Though he lacked a formal education he was a self-taught person.

Crossword puzzles came easy for Pappy. In part that was because he was such an avid reader. But it was also true that the more word puzzles he worked, the better he was at solving them.

Last Sunday I was working the crossword puzzle in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. One clue was “Baseball player Satchel.” I knew immediately the correct five-letter answer – Paige.

Baseball season is underway. The boys of summer have returned. Enthusiasts across the Southeast are surfing channels to find the Atlanta Braves on television. Very few fans remember that in 1969, Satchel Paige was a member of the Atlanta Braves. Read more…


June 20, 2015

An historical marker in front of the Holiday Inn in Newport, Tennessee, gives a brief synopsis of the life of Ben Hooper. A compelling part of the story comes from Dr. Fred Craddock, an outstanding preacher. I have heard and told this story many times. Like most good stories, there are numerous variations.

Dr. Craddock was professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. He and his wife needed a vacation. They went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where they rented a quaint cabin beside a mountain stream.

On the first night of their getaway, the Craddocks visited a mom-and-pop restaurant. It was not a fancy place. It featured wooden chairs and tables, plaid tablecloths, and excellent down-home cooking.

As they waited for their meal to be served, they noticed an old man enter the restaurant. Wearing overalls, he looked the part of a mountaineer. He went around the room, moving from one table to another, greeting the guests at each table.

Fred Craddock thought, “We’ve come to Gatlinburg to get away from people! I’ll bet this old man is going to bother us!”

Sure enough, the old man made his way around the room and came over to their table. “Hi, where are you folks from?”

“We’re from Atlanta.”

“What do you do in Atlanta?”

Hoping to put him off, Craddock said, “I am a professor of homiletics.”

“Oh, you teach preachers how to preach!”

Dr. Craddock was confounded. The old man knew what the word homiletics meant.

With that, the old man pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Dr. and Mrs. Craddock. He said, “I have a preacher story to tell you.” Read more…


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