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March 18, 2018

The cool rainy days last week called to mind another time. One March when I was a teenager, snow fell on three consecutive Wednesdays.  Just a few years ago, the temperature plummeted to fourteen degrees on a night in mid-March, nipping in the bud the bloom on many of our plants.

The Bible says, “for, lo, the winter is passed, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12 KJV).  Even in my backyard now the truth of that Scripture is verified by the blooming of flowering bulbs and shrubs. Birds are singing.  The robins and the bluebirds have returned, preparing for their nesting.  But so far I have heard no sound from a turtle.

When I was a boy I used to think that passage was one of the strangest in the Bible.  I’ve spent a good bit of time out of doors and have heard the voice of a turtle only a time or two.  On one occasion, a very large snapping turtle had the poor taste to chomp down on a catfish line, embedding a rather large hook in his palate.  An angry snapping turtle makes an unmistakable sound.  I doubt that the poetry of the Bible had that hissing in mind.  Later translations substitute turtle with turtle dove, a bird I see every day in my backyard.

The fact that spring is at hand is unmistakable.  In his “Ode to the West Wind,” Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” A better question is, if the daffodils are blooming, if the bluebirds are nesting, if basketball’s March madness is in full swing, can spring be far behind?

On Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 12:15 PM daylight saving time, spring will arrive. This change may happen with little or no notice, but in the Upstate of South Carolina, at precisely 12:15 PM daylight saving time, the sun will cross directly over the earth’s equator. This moment is known as the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere, the beginning of spring. In the southern hemisphere it is the autumnal equinox. Read more…


Saint Patrick

March 15, 2018

The story of Saint Patrick, one of the most beloved of all saints, is a strange mixture of history and legend. Patrick was born into a wealthy family in England about 385 A.D. His father was a deacon from a Roman family of high social standing. His mother was a close relative of Martin of Tours. Patrick’s grandfather was a priest in the Catholic Church.

When Patrick was sixteen years old, Irish pirates captured and sold him into slavery in Ireland. Patrick worked as a shepherd for his master, a Druid high priest in the religion of the ancient Celts.

In time Patrick came to view his enslavement as a test of his faith. During his six years of captivity, he became devoted to Christianity through constant prayer. He explained in his Confessions that the Lord had mercy on his youth and ignorance and gave him the opportunity to be forgiven of his sins and to be converted to Christianity.

At the age of twenty-two, Patrick had a dream, encouraging him to escape from Ireland. In that dream, the voice of God promised that he would find the way back to his homeland in England. Patrick began this journey by walking across Ireland to the coast where he convinced sailors to let him board their ship. After three days of sailing, he and the crew abandoned the ship in France and wandered, lost, for twenty-eight days—covering 200 miles in the process. At last, Patrick was reunited with his family in England.

Patrick recounted another vision he had a few years after returning home:

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish.” they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant, to come and walk among us.”

Interpreting this vision as a call from God, Patrick became determined to free the Irish from paganism by converting them to Christianity.  He never lost sight of that vision. Read more…


March 10, 2018

Friday, March 2 was celebrated again this year as National Read Across America Day. Elementary school students in many places dressed up like Dr. Seuss characters for the festivities. Why? Appropriately enough, March 2 is also the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

Clare and I still have children’s books in our home – a lot of children’s books. Clare treasures books as much as I do. Children’s books are among her favorites. She has saved books from her childhood and most of the books our five children enjoyed as they were growing up. Now our grandchildren love coming to our house and delving into Miz Clare’s Children’s Library. Clare has even set up her own check-out system so the grandchildren can borrow books and return them after enjoying them for a while.

My job is to keep the books in good repair. I patch the treasured volumes with tape when little hands accidentally tear a much-handled page.

I was at that task not long ago when I realized how many books we have that were written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss.

The Cat in the Hat is regarded as the defining book of Dr. Seuss’ career. The popular book was developed through a joint venture between Houghton Mifflin and Random House. Houghton Mifflin asked Dr. Seuss to write and illustrate a children’s primer using only 225 new-reader vocabulary words. Random House obtained the trade publication rights because Seuss was under contract to them, and Houghton Mifflin kept the school rights. With the release of The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss became the America’s best known children’s book author and illustrator.

As I secured the crumbling spine of The Cat in the Hat with strapping tape, I wondered how the beloved Dr. Seuss got his start as a writer of children’s literature. An internet search revealed his fascinating story. Read more…


March 3, 2018

The soaking rains of the last day of February and the first day of this month, followed by gusty winds and falling temperatures, remind me that March is a restless time.  Many of our familiar clichés and quotes about March confirm the unsettled nature of this, the third month on our calendars.

The time-honored adage, “in like a lion, and out like a lamb,” describes the dramatic changes we might expect in the weather.

Shakespeare’s admonition to Julius Caesar, “Beware the ides of March,” signals a foreboding feeling.

“As wild as a March hare” implies that even rabbits are more impetuous during these thirty-one days.

Maybe the humorous poet Ogden Nash put it best:

Indoors or out, no one relaxes

In March, that month of wind and taxes,

The wind will presently disappear,

The taxes last us all the year.

In March, cabin fever gives way to spring fever.  The winter has kept us more confined than we like, with much of the colder months being spent on the inside looking out.  While winter has not entirely left us, all around are signs of the hope of spring.  School children, bundled against the March winds, fly kites in open fields.

Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her sonnets,

A little Madness in the Spring

Is wholesome even for a King.

Spring-cleaning, which goes much deeper than the ordinary, is one example of wholesome madness.  Most homemakers have a moment, often in the spring, when an impulse to tidy up seizes them.  The urge takes them from the ceiling to the floor and from the back of closets and cabinets to the far reaches of basement and attic.  It is a particularly virulent form of spring fever that can become confounding and even annoying to those not afflicted with the malady.

What is worse is when the spring-cleaning madness, though wholesome in its outcome, works at cross-purposes with March Madness of the basketball variety.  Many a couch potato has been rousted from comfort by a renegade vacuum cleaner, intruding into the line of vision during the final seconds of an overtime game.

The football season ended the first Sunday of February; the Winter Olympics took center stage for seventeen days; baseball is several weeks away; so basketball has the sports spotlight for the month of March.  The National Collegiate Athletic Association showcases conference tournaments, closely followed by The Big Dance, the NCAA basketball tournament.

All of this basketball has surely exceeded the wildest imagination of Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game. A Canadian by birth, Naismith was a coach in Springfield, Massachusetts.  By attaching a peach basket to the wall on each end of the gymnasium at the local YMCA, Naismith created an indoor game suitable for the harsh winters of New England. The roundball frenzy has become, indeed, March Madness.

Several years ago my brother Bill and I were watching the Big East Championship basketball game between Georgetown and West Virginia.

“What is a Hoya?” Bill asked.

I had no clue.

Dozens of schools have rather common mascots for their athletic teams. Tigers, Wildcats, and Eagles are typical. When Clemson tangles with the University of Missouri, Auburn, or Louisiana State, the Tigers will no doubt prevail since all four teams are known as Tigers.

Some schools, however, have unusual mascots with strange nicknames. Most sports fans are familiar with the Razorbacks of the University of Arkansas and the Buckeyes of Ohio State.  But what is a Hoya anyway? Why did the University of California at Santa Barbara select an Argentinean cowboy, the Gaucho, as its mascot? How could Wake Forest, a school with Baptist roots, become the Demon Deacons?

When the University of California at Santa Cruz decided to compete in the NCAA in 1980, it announced that the school’s mascot would be the sea lion. But students there had already adopted the banana slugs that populated the redwoods on campus as an unofficial mascot. Students rallied and won. Sammy the Banana Slug has become one of the most recognizable college mascots ever.

President Frank Horsfall of the University of Arkansas at Monticello noted in 1925 “the only gosh-darned thing that ever licked the South was the boll weevil.” That well-known pest became the school’s mascot.

Scottsdale Community College needed a new mascot in the 1970s. At the time, the student government was upset with the administration for steering funding toward athletics instead of academics. Students voted on the three unorthodox mascots selected:  the Artichokes, the Rutabagas, or the Scoundrels. Former college president Art DeCabooter claims that Artie the Fighting Artichoke won because he has heart.

Other strange mascot names include the Fighting Squirrels of Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, the Columbia College Claim Jumpers, the Pittsburg State Gorillas, the University of Delaware Fighting Blue Hens, the Blue Hose of Presbyterian College, the Kangaroos of Austin College, the University of Irvine Anteaters, the Purple Cows of Williams College, and the Long Beach Dirtbags.

Among the most incongruent were the Fighting Christians from Elon and the Fighting Quakers of Earlham. Both schools have since changed their mascot names.

The Stormy Petrel, an extinct seafaring bird, is the mascot of Oglethorpe University, a landlocked Georgia school. When the team made a rare appearance in the NCAA tournament, the ESPN announcer mistakenly called them the Salty Pretzels.

Georgetown Hoyas display a bulldog, but their nickname is unrelated. The origin of Hoya dates back more than a century when Georgetown’s teams were known as the Stonewalls. A student, using Greek and Latin terms, dubbed the baseball team Hoia Saxa, which translates “what rocks.” The name stuck, becoming Georgetown’s popular “Hoya Saxa” cheer. Eventually the school adopted Hoyas for all athletic teams.

After Purdue’s football team smashed Wabash College, 44-0, in its 1891 season opener, a Crawfordsville newspaper ran the headline “Slaughter of Innocents: Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue.” Though the reference was intended as an insult, it instead became a source of pride. Purdue teams are the Boilermakers.

In 1932, Maryland football coach H.C. Byrd recommended the Diamondback Terrapin as mascot. Byrd had apparently had a run-in with a snapping turtle.

Wake Forest was originally known as the Old Gold and Black.  In 1922, after a victory over rival Duke, a local sports editor referred to the football team as the Demon Deacons. The new name quickly caught on with fans.

Originally known as the Road Runners, the University of California at Santa Barbara adopted its new nickname in 1936. Douglas Fairbanks’ performance in the 1927 film “The Gaucho” inspired female students to lobby to change the mascot to the Gauchos.

Several years ago Wofford College was a surprise entry in the NCAA tournament. For the Terriers to make it to the Big Dance really was a Cinderella story. Almost no one gave Wofford much of chance against the University of Wisconsin in the first round of the tournament. Though the Badgers prevailed, the Terriers put up a good fight.

A woman with a knack for winning the NCAA pool in her office had a simple strategy. She decided, based on the mascots, which teams she thought would advance to the next round. For example, if the Florida Gators played the Oregon Ducks, she reasoned that a duck was no match for an alligator. Easy!

Conference tournaments begin this week followed by the NCAA tournaments next week.

Enjoy March Madness!

REMEMBERING BRUCE CASH: February 28, 1955 – January 13, 2014

February 28, 2018

Bruce Cash was my brother-in-law, married to my little sister, Kitty. She is the youngest of eight; I am the oldest. Kitty is fourteen younger than I am. When she was born, I was in junior high school. When I was a college student at Furman University, Kitty would call me with a request, “Kirk, will you come home and take me to the Beacon?”

Going to the Beacon with Kitty was special to both of us. She always, always, had Beacon chocolate milk and a grilled cheese sandwich. Having a little sister is a good thing for an older brother. I saw myself as a guardian of sorts, not as a parental surrogate, but as a designated protector. It was a role that was especially activated when she started dating. I thought my job was to keep the creepy guys away.

I have thanked the Lord for Bruce Cash many, many times. He was the perfect man for my little sister.

I could not have known then what I know now. Morningside Baptist Church had an outstanding youth program back in those days. Steve Suits, Terry Wilson, and Bruce Cash were all products of that youth group. All three of those fine men became my brothers-in-law. Steve married my sister Mamie; Terry married my sister Jeslyn; and Bruce married Kitty. I must also express gratitude to First Presbyterian Church for my brother-in-law Jule Hedden, married to my sister Beth.

At Bruce’s funeral service I thought about Mama and Dad and the many prayers they lifted to heaven for all of us. Their desire was that each of us would find the marriage partner of God’s choosing.

Bruce and Kitty first knew each other through Young Life. Kitty was a high school student. Bruce was a college student who served as the Young Life music leader. When Jeslyn and Terry got married May 24, 1975, Terry wanted his best friend, Bruce, to sing, and Jeslyn wanted her sister Kitty to sing. Ron Wells worked with Kitty and Bruce on a duet. From that time on my little sister knew she was going to marry Bruce. They were married Dec 17, 1977. I officiated at their wedding along with Dr. Alastair Walker and Rev. Joe Crook.

Kitty and Bruce sang together a many weddings. As we received friends before the funeral a number of people said to me, “Kitty and Bruce sang at our wedding.” Jeslyn and Terry’s wedding was the first. The wedding for Jeslyn and Terry’s daughter, Neely Louise Wilson to Josh Tarr’s on October 8, 2011, was the last.

In 1992 the Spartanburg Herald-Journal printed a story about Bruce’s decision to no longer sell tobacco products. When asked why, he said “I’m a pharmacist. I’m supposed to be helping people get well, and I’m also a Christian. I believe our bodies are a temple of God. Even though tobacco sales represent 10 percent of my revenue, I cannot in good conscience dispense at one end of the store medicine to help people get well and at the other end, a product that I know will make them sick.”

That’s who Bruce was. He believed that his Christian faith was not just for Sundays, but his faith guided his actions every day of his life.

Many remember Bruce best for his work as a pharmacist as the owner of Ford’s Drugs and Medical. Many others remember him best for his beautiful voice. From the songs of James Taylor to the hymns of faith, Bruce had a magnificent voice.

From the late 1980s through the early 1990s First Baptist Church secured The Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium for the presentation of the Passion of Christ. The musical drama was scheduled for Passion Week. Bruce played the part of Jesus. He was the right person to portray Christ. Not only did he have the voice, he also possessed a deep humility. The role fit him, and he fit the part.

To prepare for the Passion play, Bruce started letting his beard grow after Christmas so it would be a full beard before Easter. Customers in the drug store noticed the facial hair and anticipated the drama to come.

The drama took us from the birth of Jesus through the resurrection. To see Bruce quoting the teachings of Jesus, to see him kneeling in the garden, to hear him give that excruciating cry for the cross, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” was deeply moving.

I loved Bruce dearly. I will pray today for his mother, Ruth, and for my little sister, Kitty and for her children and grandchildren. I have relinquished my guardian role. They now have a guardian in heaven.

Permit me to share one last story about Bruce that is indelibly etched in my memory.

One morning after the presentation of the Passion of Christ the night before, I walked into Ford’s Drugs. An older gentleman who had seen the play for the first time the previous evening stopped to chat. We exchanged greetings and then he said, “I saw the Passion play last night. It was very well done. I had trouble going to sleep because I couldn’t get the story out of my mind. But I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing like walking in a drug store to pick up a prescription and having Jesus hand you the medicine.”

There is no better summary of the life of Bruce Cash than that.


February 25, 2018

Effective January 21, 2018, postal rates increased. The price of a first-class stamp increased to fifty cents. A postcard stamp will now cost thirty-five cents.

When I think about it, fifty cents is a small price to pay to send a birthday card from South Carolina to a grandchild in New Hampshire or in Tennessee. Still, complaints are common.

I stopped by a branch Post Office just before Christmas to mail packages to our out-of-town children and grandchildren.  As I waited in line, I overheard a conversation between a postal clerk and a customer.  The woman was in line to purchase just one stamp.

She complained, “I have so many stamps at home, but I never seem to have one when I need it.  Just last week I bought a roll of one hundred stamps, and here I am without one.”

The clerk scolded, “You need to use up those stamps! The price goes up next month!” That transaction completed, he slid a NEXT WINDOW PLEASE sign into place and announced, “I’m going to lunch.”

Three of us were left standing in line to wait our turn for the one window that remained open.  The man behind me commented, “No wonder rates are going up.  Customer service gets more expensive by the day.” Read more…


February 17, 2018

Several weeks ago, on the anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America, I shared a story in this column that impressed one of our grandsons. I repeat it here.

In 1960, on the prairie below Pike’s Peak, I shook hands with the President of the United States.  I was attending the National Scout Jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado. President Dwight David Eisenhower spoke to the more than fifty thousand scouts. Senior Patrol Leaders from every troop were invited to stand along the roadway as the president’s car traveled through the city of tents. At one point, the man, affectionately known as Ike, got out of his convertible and shook hands with seventy or more of us. I was in that group.

February is sometimes called the month of the presidents.

In 1885, President Chester A. Arthur signed a bill making Washington’s Birthday a federal holiday. President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 never became a federal holiday but was celebrated in many states outside the Old Confederacy. In 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act, moving the official observance of George Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Many Americans call the holiday Presidents’ Day in honor of all of our Presidents.

President’s Day is an appropriate time for presidential trivia. Here are some facts that interest me.

Several of our Presidents were related to other Presidents.

  • James Madison (the fourth president) and Zachary Taylor (the twelfth president) were second cousins.
  • John Quincy Adams (the sixth president) was the son of John Adams (the second president).
  • Benjamin Harrison (the twenty-third president) was the grandson of William Henry Harrison (the ninth president).
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the thirty-second president) was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt (the twenty-sixth president).
  • FDR was distantly related to a total of eleven United States presidents, five by blood and six by marriage.
  • George W. Bush (the forty-third president) was the son of George H. W. Bush (the forty-first president).

Twenty-six presidents were attorneys before becoming the chief executive.

Twelve presidents were generals, including Washington and Eisenhower, before becoming commander-in-chief.

Nine years after leaving the presidency, William Howard Taft was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Barack Obama was our forty-fourth president. Donald Trump is our forty-fifth president. There actually have been only forty-three presidents. Grover Cleveland was elected for two nonconsecutive terms and is counted as both our twenty-second and twenty-fourth president.

Eight presidents were born British subjects: Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison.

Martin Van Buren was the first president born in the United States.

Jimmy Carter was the first president to be born in a hospital.

Two presidents were former college presidents, James Madison and Woodrow Wilson.

The college that has the most presidents as alumni, six in all, is Harvard. Yale is a close second, with five.

The oldest elected president was Ronald Reagan at age sixty-nine until Donald Trump who was seventy.  The youngest elected was John F. Kennedy at age forty-three. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest man to become president. He was forty-two when he succeeded William McKinley, who had been assassinated.

The oldest living former president was Gerald Ford who lived to be ninety-three. The second oldest was Reagan, who also lived to be ninety-three years.

The tallest president was Lincoln at six feet four inches. Madison was the shortest at five feet four inches.

We have elected eight left-handed presidents: James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Fourteen presidents first served as vice presidents.

For two years a president and a vice president who were not elected by the people governed the nation. After Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in 1973, President Nixon appointed Gerald Ford as vice president. Nixon resigned the following year, which left Ford as president. Ford appointed as vice president Nelson Rockefeller.

James Buchanan was the only president never to marry. Five presidents remarried after the death of their first wives. Two of our Chief Executives, Tyler and Wilson, remarried while in the White House. Reagan and Trump are the only two divorced presidents.

Six presidents had no children. Tyler, the father of fifteen, had the most.

Four presidents, Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated in office. Assassination attempts were made on the lives of Jackson, T. Roosevelt, F. Roosevelt, Truman, Ford, and Reagan.

Eight presidents died in office. William Henry Harrison died after serving only one month.

Presidents Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe all died on the 4th of July. Calvin Coolidge was born on that day.

Here are some trivial facts that you may not have previously known about our presidents.

  • When Lewis and Clark were exploring the West, two young bear cubs were sent to President Jefferson. He kept the bears as pets in a cage on the White House lawn and occasionally went on walks with them. Other strange presidential pets include John Quincy Adams’ alligator, James Buchanan’s elephant, and Teddy Roosevelt’s zebra.
  • John Quincy Adams regularly had an early morning skinny dip in the Potomac River.
  • When Grover Cleveland became president he was a bachelor. He married twenty-one-year-old Frances Folsom during his first term in office. Frances was the daughter of Cleveland’s former law partner. Becoming First Lady at age twenty-one, she remains the youngest wife of a sitting president.
  • Calvin Coolidge had several unusual habits. Not only did he sleep nearly ten hours a day, but he also had strange morning ritual. He enjoyed having Vaseline rubbed on his head while he ate breakfast in bed.
  • Warren G. Harding liked to gamble. In one poker game, he bet the White House china and lost it all in one hand.
  • James A. Garfield was ambidextrous. It was said he could simultaneously write a sentence in Latin with one hand and write the same sentence in Greek with the other hand. He must have also been multilingual.
  • Ulysses S. Grant was given a twenty-dollar speeding ticket for riding his horse too fast on a Washington street.
  • William Howard Taft weighed more than 350 pounds. He got stuck in the White House bathtub! He had to be pried out and soon had an oversize bathtub installed.
  • At a White House dinner party, President Franklin Roosevelt regaled guests with a story. Magazine editor Fulton Oursler was in in attendance, and later hired mystery writers to flesh out a novel based on FDR’s tale. The story was then adapted into a movie, “The President’s Mystery.” FDR received screen credit.
  • While in the Navy, Richard Nixon noticed that his fellow sailors were winning money in poker games. Nixon had the best poker player in his unit teach him how to play the game. Within only a few months, Nixon had won close to $6,000. He reportedly used his winnings to fund his first congressional campaign.
  • In the 1940’s Gerald Ford did some modeling and even posed for the cover of Cosmopolitan
  • President Barack Obama collected Spiderman comic books, and read every Harry Potter book.
  • Lincoln, Jefferson, F. Roosevelt, Washington, Kennedy, and Eisenhower are portrayed on our coins.

May I suggest that this might be a good time to start collecting presidential portraits? You’ll find their likeness printed by the United States Mint on paper currency.

  • George Washington on the $1 bill
  • Thomas Jefferson on the $2 bill
  • Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill
  • Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill
  • Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill
  • William McKinley on the $500 bill
  • Grover Cleveland on the $1,000 bill
  • James Madison on the $5,000 bill
  • Woodrow Wilson on the $100,000 bill

Good luck with your collection!