Skip to content


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…


June 13, 2015

When our children were young Clare insisted that the toys and books we purchased for them be things that would endure. Over the years many of the items our children enjoyed have remained almost as good as new. Now our grandchildren play with the toys and read the books that have been preserved in good condition by their grandmother.

We had nine of our grandchildren with us over the last eight days, including two from Chicago and two from Nashville. Two of our three-year-old granddaughters were enchanted by a vintage Fisher-Price toy hourglass. The sturdy toy features yellow plastic endcaps, clear plastic funnels, and an orange handle made to fit a child’s hand. When the toy is flipped hundreds of tiny multicolored plastic beads drain from one funnel to the other. The transfer takes all of five seconds.

The toy can hardly be called an hourglass. It will not even time a three-minute egg. It certainly can’t be used to time a thorough toothbrushing. I remember miniature hourglasses that served those purposes. The purpose of the toy is to dazzle and fascinate a child. Perfect!

The hourglass has a long history. Marine sandglasses have been recorded since the fourteenth century. The written records about it were found in logbooks of European ships. Marine sandglasses were the most dependable measurement of time while at sea.

During the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan around the globe, eighteen hourglasses from Barcelona were in the ship’s inventory. It was the job of a ship’s page to turn the hourglasses and thus provide the times for the ship’s log. Noon was the reference time for navigation, which did not depend on the glass, because the sun would be at its zenith.

Hourglasses were commonly seen in use in churches, homes, and work places to measure sermons, cooking time, and time spent on breaks from labor. Wonder if they worked to reign in long-winded preachers?

Watching our granddaughters take turns flipping the hourglass back and forth brought me to a moment of reflection. I thought about the way sand attracts children of all ages. Read more…


June 6, 2015

I had lunch with a delightful group of people at a local eatery. In the course of our table talk, one fellow expressed a concern

“My wife and I have lived here for five years now. We really like the South. We have found it to be much friendlier than the North. We are trying to be real Southerners, but people here speak a different language.”

“Just be yourself,” I said. “You’ll probably get some good-natured teasing. Most Southerners would rather know you the way that you are than to have to deal with phoniness. Most folks can spot a fake as quickly as a three-dollar bill.”

“See, that’s what I mean. The Treasury doesn’t print three-dollar bills.

“That’s right. They’re phony, counterfeit. Most people can spot a fake at twenty paces?”

“Twenty paces? How far is that?”

“About 12-gauge shotgun range!”

He laughed.

Later I thought about his dilemma. What is it about our speech that identifies us as Southerners?

Speaking Southern is more than accent or dialect, more than drawl or pace. It is the turning of a phrase. A conversation takes a little longer because we add extra syllables and words to our speech. Instead of saying another, we might say a whole ‘nuther. Read more…


May 31, 2015

The first week of June marks the beginning of summer vacation for many families.

Unfortunately, most of us do not know how to take a vacation. The song “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” describes vacation American style. “Pack up all your cares and woe, here we go.” We rush lemming-like to ocean or mountain resorts where cruising a four-lane highway lined with exciting entertainment and shopping opportunities becomes our preoccupation. High-rise buildings block sunrise and sunset. Neon glare overpowers twilight and starlight. Amplified cacophony mutes the songs of birds and the sound of the wind. This is not a vacation. Instead of getting away from it all, we have taken it all with us. No wonder a vacation becomes an additional cause of stress instead of a time for rest. As one of my teaching colleagues said following spring break, “I thought I was taking a vacation, but the vacation took me. Now I really need a vacation.”

Vacation varieties are almost limitless. For some people, a vacation can literally be a month of Sundays, several weeks of travel and relaxation. Even that amount of time can become a rather harrowing experience. Around the world in eighty days is not necessarily a vacation.

An at-home vacation where everyone shares the responsibilities for housekeeping, cooking, and laundry can be a good family experience. Drives in the country, fishing in a farm pond, reading a book just for fun, playing a family softball game, grilling supper outdoors, and catching fireflies in the back yard are all pleasant, at-home vacation ideas. Side trips to a museum or the zoo, learning a new hobby or craft, or hiking at a nearby state park can all be a part of an at-home vacation.

Most families think of a vacation as a one- or two-week time away from home. These trips usually begin when work is over on Friday. Saturday is a day of driving; Sunday is a day of settling in. By Thursday, the family starts thinking of packing. There is yet another day of driving on Saturday or Sunday and a return to work on Monday morning. This type of vacation wears us out.

You can tell whether you have had a good vacation. Ask yourself questions. Have I spent too much money? Am I so exhausted that I have no energy left? Has this vacation replenished me or depleted me? Do I feel refreshed, or do I feel drained? Read more…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,059 other followers