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TRAVELING A BLUE LINE HIGHWAY

May 19, 2018

Clare and I enjoy driving along the back roads through the country when we travel. Leaving the four-lane interstate highways and passing through small towns give us an opportunity to slow our pace, talk with each other, and enjoy local lore. We took a pleasant jaunt down South Carolina Highway 261, the oldest route in the Midlands.

The road is named King’s Highway because it spurred off the 1300-mile trek between Boston, Massachusetts, and Charleston, South Carolina. Originally a Catawba Indian trail, the highway is located east of the Wateree River. In 1753 it became a public connector between Charleston and Camden. Also referred to as the Broad Road, the Great Road, or the Charleston Road, Highway 261 is a delight to travel.

Beginning near Boykin in Kershaw County, the old blue line road ends 117 miles south in Georgetown County.  The last Civil War battle in South Carolina, fought April 18, 1865, was waged at Boykin Mill. Located a few miles south of Camden, the unique village was named for William Boykin, who settled the town in 1755.  William’s son, Burwell, dammed Swift Creek in 1792, creating a 400-acre pond, which provided power to a grist and flour mill, as well as a sawmill. The Boykin family is also responsible for the breeding of the Boykin spaniel, the state dog of South Carolina.

Further along Highway 261, travelers pass the ruins of Home House Plantation, the summer home of General Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero. British General Cornwallis nicknamed Sumter, the Gamecock. General Sumter’s impressive monument marking his grave is nearby in a small public park.

High Hills Baptist Church, founded in 1772, is located near Stateburg. General Sumter granted a plot of land to the congregation. The church became influential under the leadership of Reverend Richard Furman, the pastor from 1774 to 1787.

Stateburg missed being selected the new capital by one vote when the state capital was moved from Charleston in 1786. According to tradition, the United States Military Academy, now at West Point, considered Stateburg for its location.

Just to the south in the High Hills of the Santee stands the historic Church of the Holy Cross, also known as the Holy Cross Episcopal Church. General Sumter donated the land on which the church was built. The remarkable structure is a notable example of Gothic Revival design, featuring a cruciform floor plan, corner towers, and pointed arches. The walls were constructed of pisé de terre or rammed earth.  Inside is the original Erben pipe organ, installed in 1851.

Joel Roberts Poinsett is among the many 19th century South Carolinians buried in its cemetery. A physician, statesman, and botanist, Poinsett served as the first American ambassador to Mexico. He brought us the familiar Christmas flower the poinsettia from that country.

Near Pinewood stands Millford, a two-story Greek revival mansion.  Nathaniel F. Potter of Providence, Rhode Island, built the home for John L. Manning, Governor of South Carolina from 1852 to 1854. It features six carved Corinthian columns and a spectacular circular staircase rising in a domed cylindrical chamber.

Union troops threatened the residence near the end of the Civil War. Their commander’s intervention, however, actually saved the plantation from destruction. The conversation between Brigadier General Edward E. Potter of New York and Governor Manning was recorded.

Potter: “This is a fine structure.”

Manning: “Well, the house was built by a Potter, Nathaniel Potter, and it looks as though it will be destroyed by a Potter.”

Potter: “No, you are protected. Nathaniel Potter was my brother.”

When General Potter spared Millford, he did not know that Manning had a copy of the Articles of Secession in a desk drawer.

Clare and I meandered through the quaint towns of Wedgefield, Pinewood, and Paxville. Along the way we noticed road signs with interesting names: Burnt Gin and Buttermilk.  The highway passes Poinsett State Park, travels through Manchester State Forest, and parallels the Palmetto Trail.

We continued our wanderings by making our way into the picturesque town of Manning, South Carolina. The owner of a hardware store gave me directions to McCabe’s Barbecue. “Look for all the pickup trucks parked outside. You can’t miss it.”

The McCabe family is known for pit-cooked barbecue that uses a simple vinegar-pepper sauce. The restaurant’s ample buffet features other good victuals from which to choose, including fried chicken, downhome vegetables, hash, and dirty rice.

Highway 261 continues to Kingstree, originally named Williamsburg and founded during colonial times. King George claimed as his own an unusually large pine tree found there along the Black River. Since tall pines were ideal for use as ship masts, the monarch’s arrow mark placed upon this tree prevented anyone from felling it. That tree, which was never cut, is the only one claimed by King George in the South.

Over time, the county kept the name Williamsburg, but the county seat became known as the King’s Tree, giving the town its name, Kingstree.

Clare and I usually take US 521 out of Manning, travel south through Greeleyville, a town having fewer than 400 residents, and continue into Salters, located in the middle of cotton country. By late summer and early fall, the cotton is high and the bolls are bursting with white. Two miles away is Cooper’s Country Store, owned by Adalyn and George Cooper.  The store peddles everything from whole country hams to shotguns.

Andrews, South Carolina, is actually the consolidation of two separate towns: Rosemary and Harpers Crossroads.  Those small towns were settled along the Georgetown and Western Railroad line, which started operation in 1886. Almost a decade later came the addition of a Seaboard Air Line Railroad route through the area and the building of a sizable maintenance shop.

In 1909, voters agreed to incorporate the two towns into a single community, which they named after Colonel Walter H. Andrews.  An employee of the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company, Andrews played an important role in the incorporation process and served as the mayor for two decades.  Musician Chubby Checker and comedian Chris Rock call Andrews home.

Our trip ended in Georgetown, the third oldest city in the state.  Located on Winyah Bay at the confluence of the Great Pee Dee, the Black, the Waccamaw, and the Sampit rivers, Georgetown is the second largest seaport in South Carolina. In the colonial period, large rice plantations were established on the rivers around the area. By the time of the Civil War, Georgetown was producing one-half of the total rice crop in the United States. The city was the largest rice-exporting port in the world. Wealth from Carolina Gold rice enabled planters to build stately homes, several of which are now preserved as historic treasures.

If you decide to follow this blue line route through the state, Clare suggests you travel during daylight. At night the road is dark, and the deer run rampant.

Be careful and enjoy the drive!

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PINK BATS: MOTHER’S DAY AND BASEBALL

May 12, 2018

On Mother’s Day, 2007, Bill Hall of the Milwaukee Brewers slammed a walk-off homerun, using a pink baseball bat. His mother was seated in the stadium, cheering for him. A year later, Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a pink-bat homer, and Tory Hunter hit two pink-bat homeruns. Major League Baseball allows the use of pink bats only on Mother’s Day.

This Sunday, for the thirteenth season in a row, more than three hundred major leaguers will step to the plate and take their swings with pink bats. Going to Bat against Brest Cancer is again the theme of the baseball effort to raise awareness and to raise money for the fight against a disease that affects thousands of women. Many of the players have mothers, grandmothers, wives, and girlfriends who have fought the good fight against breast cancer.

The Louisville Slugger Company has colored hundreds of their white ash lumber bats pink for Mother’s Day. Hundreds of the brightly colored clubs are rolling off the manufacturing line. Fans can also purchase custom pink Louisville Sluggers at sluggercustombats.com. For each custom pink bat sold to the public, $10 will be donated to MLB charities to support breast cancer fight.

In addition, each of MLB’s 30 teams will have an honorary bat girl who is a breast cancer survivor on Mother’s Day. One in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer. More than 266,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. More than 40,000 women die each year from the disease. This annual effort by Major League Baseball has raised millions of dollars for the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

For some of the players, this hits close to home. Just five years ago New York Yankees’ first baseman and former Atlanta Brave, Mark Teixeira, stepped to the plate wielding a pink bat in honor of his mother, a breast cancer survivor.

Baseball and Mother’s Day have a longstanding connection.

Bob Feller, born in Van Meter, Iowa, became a Major League pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. The son of a hardworking farmer, he joked that shoveling manure and baling hay strengthened his arms and gave him the ability to throw as hard as he did. In his twenty-year career, Feller recorded three no-hit games and twelve one-hit games. Nicknamed the Van Meter Heater, the big right-hander’s blazing fastball mystified opposing hitters and eventually carried him to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Bob Feller was scheduled to take the mound on Mother’s Day, 1939, as the Indians played the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City.  Feller gave his mother a train ticket to Chicago and a ticket for the game. She had never before seen him pitch a Major League game.  She would finally get to see him pitch in the big leagues!

Mrs. Feller was seated in a box seat just above the Indians’ dugout, enjoying the game, when things went terribly wrong during the fourth inning.  Bob Feller hurled a fastball over the outside corner of the plate. White Sox third baseman Marv Owen fouled a line drive into the stands.  The ball struck Mrs. Feller between the eyes, breaking her glasses and knocking her out cold.  With seven stitches in her face and two black eyes, Bob’s mother spent the next two weeks in a Chicago hospital.

Sometimes Mother’s Day can be really hard on a mother.

I will never forget the year my mother received a surprise package for Mother’s Day. My dad presented Mama with a shoebox-shaped package wrapped in pink paper with a big pink bow on top.  Mama put the package aside until we had eaten the fried chicken, green beans, and rice and gravy she had prepared for her special Mother’s Day meal.

After the meal, my sister encouraged my mother to open the gift.  Mama sipped her iced tea and handed the package to me.  Smiling, she asked me to open her present.

I tore through the paper and the ribbon, opening the gift.  I could hardly believe my eyes when inside I found a brand new pair of baseball shoes, exactly my size!  My mother neither wanted nor needed baseball shoes.  I was the one on a Little League team. My old tattered Converse All-Stars were not suitable for me to be the All-Star third baseman that I hoped to become.

That gift of baseball shoes for Mama has become a symbol to me of the kind of mother she was.  Not everybody is blessed with a good mother, but many of us have enjoyed the advantages that come from a mother whose love was unconditional and self-sacrificing.  It is the reason someone has said, “A mother’s love is a reflection of the love of God.”

By the way, Bob Feller played in nine Major League All-Star games.  I did not make the All-Star game as a Little Leaguer, even with new baseball shoes. I doubt I could have done any better with a pink bat.

The Lanyard – Poem by Billy Collins

May 10, 2018

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the ‘L’ section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.’ she whispered.
‘And here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’
‘And here,’ I wish to say to her now,
‘is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.’

CINCO DE MAYO

May 5, 2018

Clare and I enjoy dining out occasionally. We make a habit of supporting locally owned businesses, restaurants included. I am convinced that when local business thrives, the community as a whole benefits.

As I write these words, we are ordering a supper of take-out food from our favorite Chinese eatery. When our children were small we made a point of celebrating Chinese New Year with Chinese food.

Our favorites for various members of our family are Thai, German, Italian, Greek, Indian, Cuban, and Middle Eastern cuisines. We enjoy sushi, crepes, falafel, as well good old Southern cooking.

A unanimous choice for our children and grandchildren is Mexican food. How many times have I ordered kids cheese quesadillas with rice?

Cinco de Mayo, like Chinese New Year, is a day to enjoy special food.  On the fifth of May many Mexican restaurants in the United States will be crowded with hungry customers.

A Bronco Mexican Restaurant is within walking distance of our home. The good folks who operate the business have become friends of ours over the years.  I stopped by one morning before they opened for lunch. I spoke with Maria, the manager. I specifically wanted to know about Cinco de Mayo. When I asked she smiled and explained.

The celebration of Cinco de Mayo is very different in the United States than it is in Mexico. For most Americans, the fifth of May offers an excuse to drink tequila, eat Mexican food, and party. In Mexico, though, the holiday isn’t nearly as big a cause for celebration. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo festivities can be found in a multitude of cities with large Mexican-American populations.

Maria named Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Chicago as examples. “In those places Cinco de Mayo is like a big carnival. In Mexico it is much quieter.”

Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico. Mexicans don’t spend the fifth of May drinking and partying. Since it’s not actually a declared national holiday, stores, offices, and banks are all open, and many people go about their day as usual.

Many Americans have no clue what the day is about. One elderly man in my acquaintance thought Cinco de Mayo was a brand of spicy, expensive mayonnaise, something akin to Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard

Maria continued, “Americans do not understand that Cinco de Mayo is not a celebration of Mexican independence. It is not like our American Independence Day. Even if they don’t understand it, we are glad they want to celebrate. It really helps our business.”

Mexicans celebrate their independence from Spain on September 16th. This marks the day in 1810 when priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla declared war against the Spanish government with his call to arms that is known as the “Grito de Dolores” or “cry of suffering.”

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a relatively small battle. It is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla which resulted in the unlikely victory of Mexico over France in 1862.

In 1861, the liberal Mexican Benito Juarez became president of Mexico, a country in financial ruin. He was forced to default on Mexico’s debts to European governments. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to the Mexican port city of Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to carve a dependent empire out of Mexican territory.

Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed the city of Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juarez and his government into retreat. The French objective was to establish a monarchy in Mexico led by Maximilian, the Archduke of Austria.

Certain that French victory would come swiftly in Mexico, 6,000 French troops under General Charles Latrille de Lorencez set out to attack Puebla de Los Angeles, a town in central Mexico. From his new headquarters in the north, Juarez rounded up a rag-tag force of loyal men and sent them to Puebla. Led by Texas-born General Zaragoza, the 2,000 Mexicans fortified the town and prepared for the French assault with a poorly trained and much smaller army.

On the fifth of May, 1862, Lorencez drew his army, well-provisioned and supported by heavy artillery, before the city of Puebla and began their assault from the north. The battle lasted from daybreak to early evening. When the French finally retreated they had lost and the Mexicans had won the day. More than 500 French soldiers were killed in the Battle of Puebla while the Mexicans lost fewer than 100 men.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates this victory. Although it was small, it demonstrated Mexico’s fierce resistance toward the French who eventually withdrew from Mexico. Victory at the Battle of Puebla represented a great moral victory for the Mexican government, symbolizing the country’s ability to defend its sovereignty against threat by a powerful foreign nation.

Several years ago Clare and I were in Nashville, Tennessee, for a long weekend. Our daughter-in-law June and our daughter Betsy were both living in Music City at the time. One of our sons affectionately referred to June and Betsy as the twin divas of Nashville. I offered to take the group out for dinner on Saturday evening. Speaking as if with one voice, June and Betsy said, “Cinco de Mayo!” It was a Mexican restaurant, and it was quite popular among their friends.

I made reservations and when we arrived I was glad I had done so. The place was packed with people and filled with the pleasing aroma of good food. We were escorted to a large booth. The menu was extensive. After we ordered we found it difficult to talk above the noise. Just as our food arrived, a mariachi band started playing, making their way from table to table with their songs.

When Clare and I recall that evening Bronco comes to mind.

I asked Maria what business would be like on Cinco de Mayo. “It will be a party!” she said. “We will be crowded and people will be happy.”

“Will there be music? Maybe a mariachi band?”

“No,” said Maria. Most of the mariachi bands in our area are in Greenville. We really don’t have enough room for a band, but we will certainly have music.”

“What will your customers eat?” I asked.

“Everything on the menu will be served” she said, then added, “but many people will just eat tacos. But they will drink. Dos Equis draft beer and our margaritas will be very popular.”

Clare and I will stay at home, but take-out is always a good possibility. She likes steak Mexicana with spinach. I enjoy pollo fundido.

Maybe you, too, would enjoy celebrating Cinco de Mayo with some good Mexican food.

And to drink?  The choice is entirely yours.

THE FULL MOON IN MAY

April 28, 2018

Last spring, on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, I took six grandchildren fishing at a local farm pond. I insisted that the daddies go with their children. We had a great time. Every grandchild and almost every adult caught fish, mostly pan-sized bream. This grandfather spent most of his time baiting hooks and untangling lines. What joy!

The full moon in May is called the full flower moon in the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It is the name used by several Native American tribes. May’s full moon was also called mother’s moon, milk moon, and corn planting moon. The full moon in May marked a time of increasing fertility, with temperatures warm enough for safely bearing young, an end to late frosts, and plants in bloom.

The light of a silvery moon may provide the inspiration for a budding romance, but the full moon in May is the right time for bream fishing in our neck of the woods. This year the full moon will appear on May 10, prime time for fishing.

Even a novice angler can fill a Sheetrock mud bucket half full of bluegill and shellcracker after fishing only a few hours.  Jigging with a cane pole from the bank or spin casting from a johnboat is equally effective. Crickets or red worms on a long-shank hook flipped into a bream bed are sure to provide a tasty supper of fresh pan fish.

In May several years ago our son, his father-in-law, and I took our oldest grandson fishing on the full moon. We stopped at our local bait shop for red worms and Louisiana pinks. On that day the bream had an appetite for Cajun fare. The tough pink worms from the bayou were the main entrée.

The three adults on the trip had made a secret agreement. We wanted the young boy to land the first fish. It didn’t take long. Standing on the grassy bank of a well-kept private pond, our grandson landed a hand-sized bluegill. Two hours later the four of us had forty-two bream in the bucket. Our grandson, of course, caught the most.

It took us nearly an hour to clean the fish, a messy process that is best done near the water’s edge. We used a cutting board positioned on the tailgate of my truck.

For supper that night my good friend Carl Bostick, who is the other grandfather, fried the fish caught earlier in the day. The sweet taste of pan-fried bream with hush puppies and coleslaw enjoyed outside under a full moon is the perfect way to end a day of fishing.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac identifies these spring days as an irresistible time for bream fishing. Even seasoned bass masters can be lured away from their plastic worms rigged on weedless hooks and artificial baits armed with treble hooks.  As exciting as landing an eight-pound largemouth bass is, ounce for ounce, snagging a feisty bream offers a fight beyond compare.  Besides, largemouth bass fishermen tend to be large mouthed. The simplicity of bream fishing is a humble endeavor that is good for the soul.

The week after Christmas, citizens who know the finer nuances of bream fishing load their pickup trucks with Fraser firs, red cedars, and other discarded Christmas trees that have been lain on the side of the road like fallen soldiers.  Rather than leaving these trees to be gathered and ground into mulch, dedicated anglers haul them to their favorite farm pond and sink them in the cold waters of winter.  A clump of Christmas trees anchored on the bottom of a pond becomes a bream bed where fish find cover in the branches.

Also important to the experienced bream angler is the catalpa tree.  “Say catalpa, not Catawba,” an avid fisherman once told me.  “Catawba is the name of a river and a tribe of Indians.  Catalpa is the tree.”  Actually, catalpa is an Indian word that means soft wood.  This tree’s whorl of purple blossoms in the spring attracts the female sphinx moth to lay her eggs at night on the large green leaves.  When the larvae hatch, those leaves provide food for hundreds of catalpa worms.

Catalpa worms are the premier bream bait.  Their tough skin holds a hook far better than either crickets or red worms.  One fisherman bragged that he had caught six bluegill on the same worm. He added, “A catalpa worm to a bream is ‘bout like a T-bone steak is to me.  It’s just too good to turn down.”

After a full moon in May several years ago, a fishing buddy and I went to a farm pond late one afternoon.  After about an hour, the only bites I had were from mosquitoes.  We quietly paddled the johnboat across the pond to a large bream bed. Fishing around the outside margin of the bed, we left the center of the bed undisturbed so as not to incite wide-spread bream panic. Using catalpa worms, we caught a bream on almost every cast, keeping only the fish we intended to clean and eat.  By dark, our basket was heavy with shellcracker and bluegill.  With only the light of a nearly full moon, we continued fishing, setting the hook whenever we heard or felt the bream hit.

Throughout the evening, bullfrogs, crickets, and a solitary whip-poor-will treated us to a concert.  The fragrance of honeysuckle wafted on a cool breeze.  Moonlight glistened on the water, and stars flickered faintly in the sky.  After fishing we cleaned the bream and put our catch on ice.  We secured the johnboat to the trailer and headed for home.

My friend reflected, “I needed this.”  I agreed. I needed it, too.

The psalmist David wrote, “He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul” (Psalm 23). Bream fishing is healing to the spirit; it is refreshing to the soul. Fishing, which requires patient timing, helps to reset our internal clock and restore the rhythm of life to a slower pace.

Driving home that night under the full moon, we said very little to each other.  My friend broke the silence.  “This must be why those first disciples were fisherman.”

“Maybe so,” I commented.

In 2013 I was not fishing on the full moon in May. A young lady in our family was getting married. Though among our kith and kin she holds the record for the largest bream ever landed, she wasn’t fishing that weekend either. Our daughter, Betsy, was a beautiful bride, and I was the officiating pastor. Her catch of the day was much bigger than her record bluegill and far better.

She always has been a good angler. As much as she enjoys fishing, on that weekend she had bigger fish to fry.

play ball!

April 21, 2018

Baseball season is underway. There have been a few delays because of snow and cold weather, but the boys of summer are at it again for another season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the season progresses there will be teams at the bottom of the standings. Fans of those teams can console themselves with ceiling fan baseball. After all, it is the only version of the national pastime in which the fan gets to hit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LEGEND OF STONE SOUP

April 14, 2018

South Carolina boasts an interesting array of local festivals. Charleston is host to Spoleto. The town of Salley is home to the Chitlin’ Strut.  Leesville has a Poultry Festival. Pickens sponsors the Whipperstompers Weekend. Irmo features the Okra Strut; Pageland, a Watermelon Festival; Gaffney, both a Peach Festival and the Broad River Antique Plow Day. Whitmire pitches a Party in the Pines. Canadys promotes the Edisto Riverfest. Cowpens celebrates the Mighty Moo Reunion. Greenville throws the Crawdad Boil. From Daufuskie Day south of Hilton Head to Quilt Day in Landrum, the Palmetto State offers a party of some sort nearly every weekend of the year.

The same is true of other Southern states as well. The Smoky Mountain Banjo Academy convenes each spring in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The Annual Barbecue Festival in Lexington, North Carolina, is held each October. On Labor Day weekend, Luverne, Alabama, hosts the Boiled Peanut Festival. The weekend of October 5-7, 2018, the town of Jonesboro, Tennessee, will host their annual National Storytelling Festival.

And, closer to home, each spring, the town of Woodruff features the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival.  Billed as the official storytelling festival of South Carolina, it is a two day event celebrating the oral tradition of storytelling. It has been my privilege to attend the event as a featured storyteller.

This year the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival is April 20-22, 2018. Once again festival will present a weekend of stories featuring Lunch and Laugh on Friday and Ghost Tales on Friday night. On Saturday there will be a full day of stories including historic tales, stories for children, and a full afternoon of New Voices, Story Slam, Liars Tale Competition, and Amateur Hour. Saturday night will bring all the tellers back for a Tell It All Grand Finale and a Time Well Spent after party for everyone to relax with friends new and old.

“Stone Soup” was originally a Grimm Brothers’ tale in which conniving strangers trick a starving town into giving them some food. There are many variations of the story. In the Portuguese version the lone traveler is a priest. In a French version, the three travelers are soldiers returning home from the Napoleonic wars. In her children’s book entitled Stone Soup, Marcia Brown retells the old French version. Her book won a Caldecott Medal in 1947.

In some older European versions of the story, villagers are tricked into preparing a feast for strangers. The fable is a lesson in deception. In most American versions of the tale, it is about cooperation within a community.

In the United States, during the Great Depression, many families were unable to put food on the table every day. It became a practice to place a large and porous rock in the bottom of the stockpot. On days when there was food, the stone would absorb some of the flavor. On days when there was no food, the stone was boiled, and the flavor was released into the water, producing a weak soup.

In some variations, the stone is replaced with other inedible objects. In these forms the story might be called button soup, wood soup, nail soup, or axe soup.

Clare and I have enjoyed delicious meals at the delightful Stone Soup Restaurant in Landrum. Inside the menu, we found yet another version of the legend. It reflects the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Allow me to share an Upstate version of the folktale.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, it wasn’t my time and wasn’t your time, but it was a long time ago, there was a village in the southern mountains.  The people had endured a severe drought.  Crops had failed.  Every family was impoverished and suffering from deprivation.

An old woman lived on a mountainside.  She was the best cook in the entire county.  One day the old woman hitched her skinny donkey to a wooden cart.  She lifted a large cast iron pot onto the cart and made her way down a winding, narrow road to the village.  Along the way she picked up fallen branches and sticks, and stacked them beside the pot.  As she crossed a dry creek bed, she selected one large round stone and added it to her load.

Finally, she came to the center of town.  She arranged the sticks to build a fire and put her cooking pot in place.  She drew water from the well, pouring bucket after bucket into the cast iron vessel. Into the water, she plopped the stone! She lit the fire and sat down in the shade of a tree to wait.  People gathered around, curious to see what the old woman was up to.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making soup,” she said.

The people noticed that the only thing in the pot of water was the large rock.

“What kind of soup are you making?” someone asked.

“I’m making a delicious stone soup,” she said.

One neighbor asked, “How could it be delicious?  There is no seasoning.”

“I have no seasoning. I have only a stone.”

“I have garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary that survived the drought.  I’ll add those to the pot,” one said

Soon, the simmering water captured the aroma of the herbs. More people came in curiosity.

“I have some beets that I can contribute,” offered another.

Then, the bubbling broth began to turn red!

A man brought a few potatoes.  One had two onions.  A woman gave a bunch of carrots.  Someone threw in corn.  Before long, every person in the village, bringing what little they had, contributed to the pot of simmering soup.  An old man killed and plucked his only chicken and put it in the pot.  Before long the entire village had gathered, savoring the pleasant aroma and looking forward to the delicious soup.

Finally, the old woman said, “I think the soup is ready.  If each person will bring a spoon and a bowl, I have a ladle. We will all have supper together.”

That night every person in the village ate well.  Bowls of soup were delivered to invalids in their homes.  Everyone agreed, it was the best soup ever!

That is the legend – and the miracle – of stone soup.

At the Woodruff Stone Soup Storytelling Festival there is a meal of soup and cornbread. But the festival takes the name Stone Soup because everybody shares a story thus contributing to the cultural heritage of the community. My experience in Woodruff is that everybody was certainly well fed. But we were also enriched through our stories.