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September 23, 2018

In the aftermath of hurricane Florence, I sat on our screened-in porch, an eyewitness as the end of summer was yielding way to the beginning of fall. Our back porch is a sanctuary. I prayed for the many people affected by the worst storm of 2018 so far. I am keenly aware that hurricane season will last another month.

Emerald hummingbirds with ruby throats fought over places to sip nectar. Purple finches, blackcap chickadees, gray titmice, and bright red cardinals took turns at the black oil sunflower seeds in the feeder suspended over the barn door. A procession of butterflies, including two orange monarchs, fluttered above pink begonias, pausing to sip nectar from the blue flower spikes of yellow and crimson coleus plants. Across the yard, a large yellow tiger swallowtail feasted on late-blooming purple hyssop. A few pale yellow and pink roses put on their final display. The Japanese maple was cloaked in deep red while the weeping cherry was dropping golden leaves in a gentle breeze. So much color! And may I remind you, I am colorblind!

Fall is one of my four favorite times of the year. Sitting on the porch I feel peacefully energized and far more renewed than if I had attended a week-long revival in a country church – far more.  My soul is best restored in quiet solitude.

This is the time when Clare and I often travel up the Saluda Grade for a brief retreat. Fall is the perfect time for these one-day forays into the Blue Ridge. We usually purchase a few pumpkins and several varieties of apples along the way. After a picnic lunch, we sometimes pause to enjoy a Carolina blue sky speckled with only a few high clouds drifting above. The southern Appalachian highlands are all the more exhilarating if there is a nip in the air, and the vast forest is ablaze with color. To perched on the tailgate of my pickup truck at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway is better than having a seat on the fifty-yard line at any football game.

The Southern Appalachian Mountains and surrounding foothills are decked out for their annual autumn display. Peak fall colors in our area usually occur from mid-October through early November. Though the mountains are home to more than 100 species of trees, the most colorful foliage comes courtesy of sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweet gums, red maples, and hickory trees.

Before settling down into winter’s deep sleep, Mother Nature has one last fling, an amazing fashion show, when mountain foliage turns radiant shades of crimson, orange, and purple.

The English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, celebrated autumn with a rhyme.

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,

That dances as often as dance it can.

The Cherokee Indians have a legend to explain why the leaves change color. It is the tale of a mighty bear that roamed the countryside wreaking havoc. The beast would charge into their villages, eat all their food, destroy their homes, chase away their animals, and frighten the women and children.

Tribal elders held a council and selected the bravest hunters to put an end to the bear. The warriors set out with their dogs and weapons to stalk the marauder. The beast fled. The Indians gave chase. One hunter came close enough to shoot, and an arrow nicked the bear. The injury was not serious, but the culprit ran so fast he escaped up into the sky. The hunters, determined in their chase, ran into the heavens in hot pursuit.

Use your imagination, and you can see the bear depicted in the four stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. The three stars in the handle of the dipper represent the hunters chasing the bear. The stalkers and their prey go around and around in the northern night sky. Every autumn, the Big Dipper comes low to the horizon. It is then, according to the legend, that the bear’s wound leaks a few drops of blood. According to the legend, the blood of the bear changes the colors of the leaves on the trees.

Those of us who live in the Piedmont are fortunate to enjoy a changing climate. As days shorten and night air becomes crisp, the soothing green canvas of summer foliage is transformed into the breathtaking autumn palette of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns.

Four factors influence autumn leaf color — leaf pigments, length of daylight and darkness, rainfall, and temperatures. The timing of color change is primarily regulated by the increasing length of night hours. As days grow shorter and nights grow longer and cooler, chemical processes in the leaves begin to paint the autumn landscape.

During the growing season, chlorophyll makes leaves appear green. As the length of night increases in the autumn, chlorophyll production slows down and then stops. The pigments that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and the trees show their fall colors.

The timing of the color change also varies by species of trees. Sourwood and tulip poplars in southern forests can become a vivid yellow in late summer while all other species are still green. Oaks put on their colors long after other species have already shed their leaves.

The brilliance of the colors that develop in any particular autumn season is related to weather conditions that occur before and during the time the chlorophyll in the leaves is dwindling. Temperature and moisture are the main influences.

Mythical Jack Frost supposedly brings reds and purples to the forest by pinching the leaves with his icy fingers. The hues of yellow, gold, and brown are mixed in his paint box and applied with quick broad strokes of his brush as he silently moves among the trees decorating them.

Actually, frost does not bring autumn hues. It turns the leaves brown. The most spectacular color displays are brought on by a succession of warm, sunny days and cool, but not freezing, nights. During these days, sugars are produced in the leaf. The cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. The combination of sugar and light spurs production of brilliant pigments in the leaves.

The amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn colors. Like the weather, soil moisture varies greatly from year to year. The countless combinations of these two highly variable factors assure that no two autumns will be exactly alike. A late spring, or a severe summer drought, can delay the onset of fall color. A warm wet spring, favorable summer weather, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights produce the most brilliant autumn colors.

The vivid change of color starts in late September in New England and moves southward, reaching the Blue Ridge Mountains by early November. The foliage in cooler higher elevations will change color before the leaves in the valleys.

I ran into friends in the grocery store, folks who were members of the church I served as pastor for eighteen years. “We’re skipping church this Sunday. We are driving to the mountains.”

You know, I really couldn’t blame them. Clare and I enjoy cruising in any season but especially at this time of year. A day on the Blue Ridge Parkway has always been a refreshing break for both of us.

George Schrieffer, a good friend, is now in heaven. George was a minister with a quick wit and a pleasant disposition. He was a diehard Chicago Cubs fan. He couldn’t sing a lick, but, my goodness, he could whistle. George came up with a short rhyme for the fall season. He was concerned that folks would be tempted to skip church on Sunday to drive to the mountains to see the display. George’s lines of poetry may not be as eloquent as those of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but they are dear to any pastor’s heart.

The leaves reach their peak

In the middle of the week!

I wonder. What must autumn be like in heaven? Do the leaves change colors? Do the butterflies and the birds migrate? I am not sure, but, for now, I believe the beauty of this season is a brief foretaste of the glory to be experienced on the other side.  It must be, well, just glorious.

Yes, glorious!



September 21, 2018

When we think of grapes, we usually think of varieties imported from European countries.  But North America also has its own native grapes. They grew wild long before Europeans settled these shores. In fact, some have speculated that the reason the first Norse explorers called North America Vineland was that the Vikings discovered these grapes. That is doubtful since their visit seems to have been limited to what is now Newfoundland. These North American grapes are indigenous to the South.

Early colonists were amazed by the abundance of grapes growing on the East Coast. Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, when exploring the Carolinas for Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, described the American landscape as, “so full of grapes that in all the world the like abundance is not to be found.”

The grapes that these men discovered were Muscadine Scuppernongs. Wine made from them was sent as a gift to Queen Elizabeth I. Later colonists were required to cultivate native grapes. The fruit was used to make jelly, jam, juice, and wine.

I remember picking scuppernongs as a boy from a vine in my grandparents’ backyard. On a trip to the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Mammy dug up the plant from her childhood home. Pappy built an arbor using rough heart pine lumber. I recall plucking the fruit right off the vine with my Uncle Wesley. Eleven years older than I, Uncle Wesley taught me to suck the sweet pulp from the large grapes and spit out the husk and the seeds. There was a drawback. Yellowjackets swarmed around the fruit that hung from the vines as well as the scuppernongs that had fallen to the ground. The stinging insects were attracted to the sweetness much as we were.

In 1980, when Clare and I moved into the house built by my grandfather in 1937, we inherited the enormous scuppernong vine. The old arbor still supported the plant. The main vine was nearly three feet in circumference. Branches, pruned many times over the years, stretched to more than ten feet over the arbor and draped to the ground. In the fall, the vine was covered with delicious wild grapes as it had been in my youth. Some in the family called it a muscadine; others a scuppernong. Some neighbors mixed the two words calling the grapes scuffadines. It was, in fact, a scuppernong, a true native Carolina plant.

Before Clare and I added fencing to our property, we often saw total strangers standing beneath the vine, buckets in hand, gathering the sweet wild grapes. Our attitude was that there was more than enough of the fruit for everybody to share.

Last Saturday morning, I stopped by Bellew’s Market. On a table, near the back of the store, I saw the most luscious Southern grapes I had seen in a long time. The plump bronze scuppernongs and glistening black muscadines were grown locally. The fruit is primarily for home use, though there are many small farmers who produce the grapes commercially.

When early European explorers landed on the Atlantic coast the bronze or purple-black fruit was growing profusely throughout what is now the southeastern United States. The name scuppernong is from the Algonquian word ascopo meaning sweet tree. The Native Americans of the southeast enjoyed the grapes long before Europeans entered this land. The Scuppernong River in Eastern North Carolina is named for the vines growing along its banks.

Florentine explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano first mentioned a white grape in an entry written in a logbook while his party explored the Cape Fear River Valley in 1524. He wrote about the “many vines growing naturally there.”  In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh described these wild grapes as being “on the sand and on the green soil, on the hills as on the plains, as well as on every little shrub … also climbing towards the tops of tall cedars.”

In 1585, Governor Ralph Lane, when describing North Carolina to Sir Walter Raleigh, stated that “We have discovered the main to be the goodliest soil under the cope of heaven, so abounding with sweet trees that bring rich and pleasant grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath no greater…”.

Scuppernongs were first cultivated during the 17th century, particularly in Tyrrell County, North Carolina. The oldest grapevine in the world is a 400-year-old scuppernong growing on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.  Known as the Mother Vine, it is growing in the backyard of a private home.

The scuppernong is the state fruit of North Carolina. It is mentioned in the North Carolina official state toast.

Here’s to the land of the cotton bloom white,

Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,

Where the soft southern moss and jessamine mate,

‘Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!

What is the difference between a muscadine and a scuppernong? Many people consider any bronze muscadine to be a scuppernong, but that is not true.  All scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs. The muscadine is a broad category of grape that includes many varieties of both bronze and black fruit. The scuppernong is a large variety of muscadine. It is usually a greenish or bronze color.

Both bronze and dark varieties mature in late summer and early fall. They have worked their way into the culinary repertoire of the South in the form of jams, jellies, fruit butter, pies, juice, and especially wine. I found a recipe for Kirk’s muscadine wine on the internet. Good name but a different Kirk. I am unable to vouch for his wine.

For the last several Christmases we have received a jar of homemade scuppernong jelly from good friends. Our grandchildren make short work of the delicious treat.

Muscadines contain significant amounts of resveratrol, the same compound found in red and white wines so often touted as an agent for lowering cholesterol levels and the risk of coronary heart disease.

Relatively drought tolerant, the muscadine grows best in areas where temperatures don’t drop below zero degrees.

Three winters after we moved to Spartanburg a sudden freeze plummeted temperatures to ten degrees below zero in the Upstate. Sap was still in the trunk of our elderly scuppernong. The sap froze, splitting the trunk into pieces.

Though the original vine planted by my grandmother is gone, many offspring have survived. Last week I found a few of the large grapes dangling from a vine clinging to a fence. I plucked the fruit and washed it with the garden hose. I crushed the grape in my mouth, savoring the pulp and spitting out the husk and the seeds. I enjoyed the same sweet taste I remember so well from my childhood.


September 16, 2018

This year marks the eighteenth anniversary of the death of our twenty-seven-year-old son Erik. Through these years, Clare and I have learned much about the experience of grief. One important lesson is that there are many things that we will never understand in this life. I encourage bereaved people to ask all of the “Why?’ questions but to expect few answers. Death is one of the great mysteries of life. There are many things we will never understand this side of heaven. Clare has said that she is keeping a list of questions to ask God. She plans to take the list with her to heaven.

A major step in learning to grieve is to give up the expectation that things will always be the same. There is no vaccination against loss. It will come to all of us sooner or later. Sorrow will be a part of every life. No one will be exempt. Once we accept that reality, we can make decisions that will move us along through grief to resolution.

Another thing that we have learned is that life moves on. Think of life as a journey down a river. The river confronts us with a series of rapids and stretches of flat, calm water. As we begin the journey, the rapids are generally less difficult, the turbulence less threatening.

As we successfully negotiate those initial rapids, we learn to handle our paddle and our canoe. Experience teaches us that in calm water we can drift and let the flow of the river carry us along. In whitewater, to avoid boulders and other dangers, we must paddle with more effort and precision.

Occasionally the river of life shocks us with thundering rapids so turbulent that we have little control. While these severe rapids sap our energy and threaten to sink us, we have the assurance that calm water is ahead. As we negotiate the swirling rapids of loss and sorrow, we continue our lifelong journey of learning how to grieve.

Another important lesson for us has been the realization that many others walk through similar valleys of the shadow of death. Just this summer, I have conducted several funerals. One service was for a young man still in his prime who died an untimely death.  Another was for a man about my age who committed suicide.  The families of these two men have embarked on a long journey of grief. Though the circumstances were very different from those of Erik’s death, the pain of loss and the experience of grief are much the same as ours.

I have made up a wise old saying. “Don’t ever waste an experience of suffering.” One meaning of redemption is that we find a way to use every experience, even the painful ones, for some good. For us, that has been to help other grieving people who are part of this fellowship of suffering.

Horatio Spafford was a Chicago businessman in the late-nineteenth century. A senior partner in a prosperous law firm and devout elder in the Presbyterian church, Spafford and his wife, Anna, lived comfortably with their four young daughters. In 1871, when the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes, it also destroyed Spafford’s sizable investments.

Two years later, the family planned a trip to Europe. At the last moment, Spafford was detained by business. Anna and the girls went ahead, sailing on the ocean liner S.S. Ville de Havre. On November 21, 1873, the liner was accidentally rammed by a British vessel and sank within twelve minutes. Anna was rescued clinging to a floating board. The four children drowned.

A fellow survivor recalled Anna saying, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I may understand why.” Nine days after the shipwreck Anna landed in Cardiff, Wales, and cabled her husband, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

After receiving Anna’s telegram, Spafford immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home. On the Atlantic crossing, the captain of his ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where his four daughters had perished. Horatio wrote a hymn as he passed over their watery grave.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

When we have learned to grieve, we, too, can affirm in any grief experience, “It is well with my soul.”


September 12, 2018

I have been following the weather reports as Hurricane Florence approaches. This is a serious storm not to be taken lightly. As I have prayed for those along the coast, I am reminded of my favorite places along the ocean, retreats where my family and I have enjoyed vacations. The storm also brings to mind the story of a benevolent ghost from Pawley’s Island.

Do you believe in ghosts?  Many people in the Georgetown area of South Carolina do.  If you ask about ghosts in that part of the country, you are likely to hear the story of the Gray Man of Pawley’s Island.

Years ago, before the Civil War, Pawley’s Island was a place where rice planters kept summer homes.  The plantation owners would go to the small island across the marsh to get away from the oppressive temperatures and the voracious mosquitoes that were a fact of life in humid, Lowcountry summers.  The ocean breezes and the solitude of the island were a respite from heat and malaria.

In one of these summer homes, there lived a beautiful young girl.  She had a suitor named Beauregard who had been away in Europe for several months.  Finally, she got word that her true love was sailing home.  She decorated the house on Pawley’s Island with greenery and flowers and asked her mother to prepare his favorite meals.

When Beauregard arrived, it was a happy occasion for the entire family.  In the midst of their celebration, Beauregard challenged one of the servants to a horse race down the beach.  The race was on!  About halfway down the beach, Beauregard took a shortcut through a marshy area.  His horse suddenly stumbled, throwing him from his saddle into quicksand.  Beauregard was unable to free himself.  The servant watched helplessly as the young man sank to his death.

The young woman was grief-stricken at the loss of her sweetheart.  She wept for days.  Every morning she wandered the beach alone as if she were expecting the man she loved to return.

One morning, a great distance down the beach, she saw a man. He was dressed entirely in gray, standing on top of a sand dune, gazing across the water.  As the young woman moved closer, her heart began to pound.  The man seemed to resemble Beauregard.  As she got closer, a gray mist came up from the ocean, swirled around him, and he vanished from her sight.

That night, she had a disturbing nightmare about an ocean storm.  In her dream, she saw Beauregard dressed in gray, beckoning her.  The following morning, she shared the dream with her family. She also told them of the strange encounter on the beach the day before. They became quite alarmed.  Her father insisted that they take her immediately to visit a physician in Charleston.  The entire family accompanied the young woman.

While the family was in Charleston, a hurricane roared across the island destroying everything.  When the young woman and her family learned of the devastation on Pawley’s Island, she realized that the appearance of the Gray Man had saved their lives.  She was convinced that he was the ghost of Beauregard!

In those days, long before the advent of Doppler Radar and weather satellites, tropical storms and hurricanes struck suddenly and without warning.  Like the grieving young woman, many others since have believed that the Gray Man was their protector.

To this day, the residents of Pawley’s Island declare that the Gray Man is in their midst.  He resides, they say, at The Pelican Inn, one of the oldest structures on the island.   The islanders tell of times when the Gray Man appeared to signal an approaching storm.  The apparition is said to have warned numerous residents just before Hurricane Hazel arrived in 1953.  All were evacuated, and no lives were lost.

Pawley’s Island Chapel is a small structure built out into the marsh on stilts. Nearly every summer for the last thirty-six years, while our family is at Pawley’s on vacation, I have been invited to lead worship in the chapel. On one occasion, I shared the tale of the Gray Man. In my sermon, I made the connection with a story from the Gospel of Matthew. The disciples were in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Throughout the night, the disciples, most of whom were seasoned fishermen, rode out a fierce storm.  As morning approached, they saw a figure walking toward them across the waves.

They were terrified and cried out in fear. “It is a ghost!”

Then, their master spoke to them, “Take courage! Don’t be afraid!”

Several days after I had delivered the sermon, I was walking along the beach. It was dusk. A band of thunderstorms had passed and moved out to sea. As the sun set over the marsh with pink, purple, and orange swirls, the sky over the ocean was dark. Flashes of lightning punctuated the clouds.

Following the storm, the evening air was cool, and the breeze was brisk. Few other people were on the beach, but I noticed a couple walking toward me. As we passed each other in the fading light, they recognized that I was the preacher from the chapel service the previous Sunday morning.

“You had us worried for a moment,” the woman said.

The man added, “I knew you weren’t Jesus, but, for a moment, we wondered if you might be the Gray Man.”

The Gray Man?  Me?

Well, at least he is a kind and helpful ghost!


September 9, 2018

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter assigned each of her students to do a report on a scientist. That day, when I went by the lumberyard on my way home from school, I saw a paper bag of boiled peanuts that had been placed on the counter. While my grandfather and I ate goobers, I told him about Mrs. Fairbetter’s assignment. Pappy suggested, “Kirk, you ought to do a report on George Washington Carver. He’s a fellow who did more with peanuts than anybody.”

I learned from a biography of George Washington Carver that this former slave became a scientist and discovered three hundred uses for peanuts. A teacher with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute, Carver devoted his life to conducting research projects connected with Southern agriculture. His work revolutionized the economy of the South by liberating it from dependence on cotton. Carver suggested that peanut derivatives could be used as adhesives, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, fuel briquettes, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, meat tenderizer, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving cream, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder, and wood stain, to name a few.

So many uses, but the best use is to eat them, boiled, roasted, parched, dried, fried, salted, or unsalted!

I am the eldest of eight children. Dad and Mama were the proud grandparents of forty-five grandchildren. When we have a family gathering, it is a big event. Even when some cannot attend, we still have a crowd.

Clare and I attended a bridal shower and potluck supper for a niece and her fiancé.  The buffet table was laden with an abundance of many of our favorites. My brother Bill, who drove from Eastern North Carolina, brought ten pounds of boiled peanuts.

My family gathered around to shuck and suck boiled peanuts. Inevitably, somebody’s eyes are bigger than their stomach. They gobble enough goobers to make themselves ill.

Soon my sister Mamie was moaning and groaning after eating a double ration. “Sorry you’re feeling bad,” someone sympathized.

“It’s okay. It’s kinda’ like having a baby. The joy of the experience more than makes the pain worth it.”

She should know. Like her mother before her, she’s the mother of eight. Mamie really likes boiled peanuts!

Several years ago, Clare and I hosted a passel of guests over the Labor Day weekend. Most of our visitors came from places north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Other than a family member from Nashville, Tennessee, and Clare’s brother, Ben Long, who lived in Maine but was born in Florence, South Carolina, we had a house full of Yankees.

Ben has deep roots in the South. When he returns to this part of the world, he starts drooling for Southern cuisine. By the time he arrives in the Palmetto State, he is ready for delicious, salty boiled peanuts.

We placed a bowl overflowing with the delicacy on the coffee table in our den. Ben helped himself. So, too, did several of the others who were completely unfamiliar with boiled peanuts. Bless their hearts! Ben gave a demonstration to the uninitiated, showing them the fine art of sucking goober peas, which is a little like eating raw oysters on the half shell. You just let them slide around in your mouth a second before gulping them down.

Some of our guests enjoyed them; others turned away in disgust, saying, “Those things are so gross!”  By bedtime the bowl was empty.

Peanuts have long been a Southern staple. A handful of salted peanuts funneled into a glass bottle of RC Cola, Pepsi, or Coca-Cola makes a concoction my Uncle Will called Dixie Drizzle. A paper bag of parched or roasted peanuts is perfect at a baseball or football game. But hot peanuts, boiled to perfection, are the crème de la crème of Southern snacks.

My father-in-law, Mr. Jack, had great success raising peanuts in his spacious garden in Leesville, South Carolina. My mother-in-law, Miz Lib, parched a good many to serve as snacks. She also kept a good supply of boiled peanuts in her freezer for those times when Ben returned home from places too far north and too far away.

Peanuts require a long, hot growing season. They need a well-drained, light, sandy soil with plenty of organic matter. The soil should be loose, not clayish and hard. Soils in the Sandhills and Lowcountry area are excellent.

The peanut is a legume. The flowering plant produces underground pods that contain the delicious seeds. Peanut plants have been in continuous cultivation for over 3500 years. They originated in South America and were carried to Africa by early explorers. Traders took them to Spain and North America. In the Colonial period peanuts were used as food aboard ships because they were cheap and of high nutritional value.

The peanut comes in four varieties.

Virginia peanuts have been grown in the eastern region of the United States since the establishment of the Jamestown colony. Virginias, also called big whites, have the largest kernels and are the most commonly sold snack peanut.

Spanish peanuts have a smaller kernel with red skin. My grandfather had a peanut machine at the lumberyard. Deposit one penny in the slot, turn the knob, and a handful of red Spanish peanuts magically dropped from the glass globe into your waiting hand. A nickel would buy an ice-cold Coca-Cola, the perfect companion for the salty redskins.

Because of their high yields, Runners are the most dominant variety in the United States. Grown commercially throughout the Deep South, most runners are used for peanut butter and peanut oil.

The Valencia variety features a bright red skin and small kernels. Valencias are sweet. Though excellent when roasted in the shell, they are even better when boiled.

No one knows just why Southerners started boiling peanuts, a folk practice in the South since the nineteenth century. In late August, when the peanut crop came in, surplus peanuts were boiled. Extended family and neighbors gathered round to share the feast of goober peas, a name derived from the African word for peanut, nguba.

At one point, they became a necessity. After Union General William Tecumseh Sherman marched through Georgia, the Confederacy was split in two. Rebel soldiers were deprived of much-needed supplies. In order to feed the Army, the Confederate government provided peanuts, which the soldiers boiled over their campfires. A well-known folk song, written by an anonymous Confederate soldier, tells the story.

Sitting by the roadside on a summer’s day

Chatting with my mess-mates, passing time away

Lying in the shadows underneath the trees

Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas.


Just before the battle, the General hears a row

He says, “The Yanks are coming, I hear their rifles now.”

He looks down the roadway, and what d’ya think he sees?

The Georgia Militia cracking goober peas.

I think my song has lasted just about enough.

The subject is interesting, but the rhymes are mighty rough.

I wish the war was over, so free from rags and fleas

We’d kiss our wives and sweethearts, and gobble goober peas.

Late summer into early fall is prime time for boiled peanuts. In the Southern clime, roadside stands or pickup truck peddlers offer bags of the tasty treat. For the last thirty-three years, the town of Pelion has thrown a Peanut Party every Fall. The local Ruritan Club boils nearly 130 bushels of peanuts.

Like okra, black-eyed peas, collard greens, grits, and pork barbecue, boiled peanuts are indigenous to our Southern culture. Much like a fish fry, a pig picking, or a Lowcountry shrimp boil, a peanut boil became a social occasion.

Several years ago, our family celebrated a birthday for our grandson at a neighborhood pool. Carl Bostick is our son Kris’ father-in-law. Not only do Carl and I share three grandchildren, we both enjoy good food. Carl brought a big bag of boiled peanuts to the party. While other adults and children enjoyed a cool dip in the swimming pool, the two grandfathers – Carl and I – like our Confederate ancestors, sat in the shade and feasted on good old goober peas.


September 6, 2018

Last week I enjoyed my first Honey Crisp apple of the season. Later that same day I learned that Gala had replaced Red Delicious as America’s favorite apple. This is apple time!

Clare and I live in the home built by my grandfather in 1937, just after the Great Depression. Soon after Mammy and Pappy moved here they planted an apple tree in the backyard near the railroad track. By the time I was old enough to climb the tree, the branches bore delicious apples every fall. The apples from that tree were not bright red, market pretty. In fact, I doubt that many other children would have been interested in the knotty yellow fruit with brown splotches. But I knew what would happen to the ones I picked. Mammy would make the best lattice-top apple pie the world has ever known. I am sure there will be apple pie topped with ice cream in heaven.

Before the American Revolution, William Mills planted fruit trees and became the first apple grower in Henderson County, North Carolina.  In 1782, Asa and Samuel Edney married the Mills daughters. The Edney brothers were among the first settlers in the community east of Hendersonville that still bears their name. Edneyville was soon known as the core of the North Carolina apple industry.

The tree in the backyard was gone before our family moved into the old home place. In the fall, Clare and I enjoy driving to the Blue Ridge Mountains to buy apples. At our favorite roadside stand, we have found up to thirty different varieties. The fruit ranges in color from deep burgundy to red to green to yellow. Beautiful even to a colorblind man! We have found dessert apples and baking apples, apples tart, and apples sweet.

The North Carolina Apple Festival is held annually over Labor Day Weekend in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The area is known as the Crest of the Blue Ridge. It has been Western North Carolina’s Premier Family Festival for over 70 years. Though the event ended on Labor Day,  there are still delicious apples to be found in Hendersonville.

The good folks of Saluda, just a few miles to the south, hold their own celebration. In the mountains of North Carolina, the expression “Let’s talk about apples” means, “Let’s forget about our troubles and think about something pleasant.”

The ancestor of our domestic apple is native to the mountains of Central Asia. A major city in the region where apples are thought to have originated is called Alma-Ata, or father of the apples. Descendants of the original wild apple trees are still found in the mountains along the border between China and the former Soviet Union.

The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated. Apples have continued to be an important food in many parts of the world. Apples can be stored for months while still retaining much of their nutritive value.

There are more than 7,500 known varieties of apples. The delicious fruit can only be grown in temperate climates. The trees will not flower without sufficiently cool weather.

Many old cultivars have excellent flavor, often better than most modern varieties. These old-fashioned apples are still grown by home gardeners and farmers. Their conservation efforts continue the tradition of John Chapman, an American pioneer. For more than fifty years, he roamed the Midwest. He earned his nickname, Johnny Appleseed, by planting apple trees across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Apples as a fruit or as a symbol are everywhere. They have played an important role in science and medicine. Legend holds that Sir Isaac Newton, upon being hit in the head by an apple falling from its tree, was inspired to conclude that a similar universal gravitation attracted the moon toward the Earth as well.

A leader in the development of cyber technology, Apple Computers adopted the apple as a logo for their company.

Clare’s Aunt Martha recommended an apple every day. An old proverb attests to the health benefits of the fruit: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Research suggests that apples may reduce the risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. Like many fruits, apples contain vitamin C, as well as a host of other antioxidant compounds. They may also assist with heart health, weight loss, and cholesterol control. The chemicals in apples may protect us from the brain damage that results in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Clare and I both have fond memories of our grandfathers peeling an apple with a pocketknife. The skill was to shave a thin layer of apple skin in a long, continuous curved strip without breaking it. It is a feat that I have attempted on the back porch with my own grandchildren. I find it amazing that children can be so entranced by the curls of an apple peel. Once the trick is completed the children enjoy eating the peeling. Then I slice the apple into wedges, and we eat those together.

“Let’s talk about apples,” may be the way southern mountain folk try to avoid discussing troubles, but in history and in myth, apples have often been at the center of trouble.

Though the forbidden fruit mentioned in the book of Genesis is not identified, popular tradition has held that it was with an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to disobey the Almighty. As a result, the apple became a symbol of temptation.

The larynx in the human throat is called Adam’s apple. The origin of the name came from the notion that it was a chunk of the forbidden fruit sticking in the throat of Adam.

Swiss folklore holds that William Tell courageously used his crossbow to shoot an apple from his son’s head, defying a tyrannical ruler and bringing freedom to his people.

Snow White, the fairytale princess, slept in a deep coma induced by a poisoned apple, a gift from her wicked stepmother.

On the other hand, the apple has been identified as a symbol of love and affection. Venus is often depicted holding an apple.

In the legend of King Arthur, the mythical Isle of Avalon is the Island of Apples.

According to Irish folklore, an apple peel, pared into one long continuous ribbon and thrown behind a woman’s shoulder, will land in the shape of her future husband’s initials.

An apple is a traditional gift for a beloved teacher.

In ancient Greece, a man throwing an apple to a woman was a proposal of marriage. If she caught the fruit, it meant she accepted the proposal.

When I was a boy, there was an old apple tree in the yard of an abandoned farmhouse down a dirt road beyond our house. In the autumn of the year, the ground was littered with rotten apples. Apple fights, spontaneous frays, were great fun. Late one September afternoon, beneath the old apple tree, the battle was joined. All went well until a buddy of mine threw a rotten apple at me. I ducked.

The apple sailed over my head and toward his girlfriend. It was certainly not a marriage proposal, and she didn’t catch it. The rotten apple hit her in the face! As you might imagine, my buddy was no longer the apple of her eye!

How do you like them apples?


September 2, 2018

“Dr. Kirk, tomorrow is the day!” the young woman exclaimed. A petite blue-eyed blond, she stood in line with her tall lanky husband at a local restaurant. I couldn’t help but notice that she was in a family way. The Biblical description is “great with child.” She was very pregnant.

“And what is tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow is labor day,” answered the young husband.

“Yes! Tomorrow morning at six o’clock we have to be at Labor and Delivery at the hospital for the arrival of our first child.”

“Get some rest,” I advised. “There is a good reason they call it going into labor.” I spoke out of my experience of being with Clare for the births of each of our five children. I can attest to the fact that the labor of giving birth is hard work.

My dad, the father of eight, used to say, “If men and women took turns having babies, no family would have more than three. There’s not a man on earth who would go through that twice.”

Labor Day as a holiday for workers was first proposed in May 1882 by a carpenter, Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor. After witnessing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada, McGuire thought such a celebration was needed in this country. Others say that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York.

Whether McGuire or Maguire, Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 when the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve the legislation. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. By that time thirty states already celebrated the day. South Carolina was not one of them.

When I was a boy it was never a holiday at the lumberyard. I remember it as the day the Southern 500 stock car race was run in Darlington, South Carolina.

Now Labor Day is a reminder of how I learned to work.

My grandfather was born in Tennessee in 1889.  I called him Pappy. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade to support his mother and three siblings following the death of his father in a railroad accident.   Enlisting in the United States Navy at age 19, Pappy served four years in Cuba.  Upon his discharge, he worked for a telegraph company as a lineman.  His company sent him to the Lowcountry of South Carolina to do the electrical wiring for a sawmill.  At a Cakewalk at the Methodist church in Estill, he met the woman who would become his wife and my grandmother, Mammy.

In 1923, Pappy and Mammy moved to Spartanburg where he opened his own lumberyard.

During the Great Depression, they lost everything.  With grit and faith, they raised nine children, sweet potatoes, and turkeys on a rented red clay farm in Cedar Springs.  Every person in the family had to work.

Following the Depression, Pappy opened another lumberyard, a family business that stayed in operation until 2009.

When I was a boy, I wanted to work at the lumberyard.  It was a natural thing.  The men that I admired most worked at the lumberyard:  Dad and Pappy.

My dad told me I could have a job, but he said, “Before you work at the lumberyard, you have to learn to work for your mama.”

Working for my mother was harder than working anywhere else.  I spent most Saturday mornings waxing and polishing the white oak floors in our home. Mama always had plenty of chores to parcel out to her children. As the oldest of eight, I was expected to set the example.

I can still hear the reverberating echo of my mother’s warning, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.”

Finally!  I got the promotion! I went to work at the lumberyard the summer after I finished the seventh grade.  I was thirteen years old and weighed no more than a hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet.

The very first day on the job, my dad put me to the task of unloading a boxcar filled with bags of cement. The old boxcar had just one door.  In those days, nothing was palletized. Forklifts were not yet available.  All the cement had to be taken out by hand, one ninety-six pound bag at the time, put on hand trucks, rolled up a ramp, and loaded into a warehouse.  My dad knew that I needed a good teacher to show me how to work. That person was Charlie Norman.

I don’t know how old Charlie was when I started working with him.  I asked him one time.  He said he was as old as dirt.  I didn’t ask again, but I knew Charlie was very old.  He had been working for my grandfather since before the Depression, delivering lumber in a one-horse wagon.

I will never forget that first day on the job.  Those bags of cement were nearly a hundred pounds of dead weight.  Charlie would stack them eight and nine high on the hand trucks, break the hand trucks down, and roll them up the ramp.  I could stack no more than three bags onto the hand trucks. I had to jump up and use all my weight on the handles to break it down.  It was all I could do to roll the hand trucks up the ramp.  Most of the time, I had to turn around backwards and pull the load up the ramp.

By about ten o’clock in the morning, I was drenched with sweat and covered with sticky cement.  Charlie peeled off his shirt.  His ebony skin glistened.  He looked like a bodybuilder.  He was an old man whose muscles were toned by hard work.

We took a half-hour break for the noon meal, not nearly enough time for me. I walked into the office and stood in front of a large exhaust fan for a few minutes.  Pappy saw me dripping wet, trying to cool down. He said, “Kirk, if you get enough education, you can work in the shade.” It was a lesson I have never forgotten.

Charlie and I worked together all afternoon until quitting time. Charlie got his second wind.  He started whistling in a low whisper of a whistle.  By four o’clock, he was singing.  We had worked all day long.  I was bone tired.  Charlie was lifting a low song under his breath, “We’ll work till Jesus comes.”

Dad and I got home a little after six o’clock.  I took a shower.  Mama had fixed a special meal, fried chicken, rice, and gravy.  I fell asleep at the supper table.  Dad guided me to bed and had a prayer with me. At five o’clock the next morning he woke me up for my second day at the lumberyard.

I worked all summer long, earning the grand total of two dollars a day. I learned to drive that summer – a three-ton lumber truck.

I asked my Dad years later why he started me with such a difficult job.

“I wanted you to learn that this is hard work.  Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

I asked why he paid me so little.

He grinned, “Be glad I didn’t pay you what you were worth.”

As much as I enjoyed working with men I admired, as much as I enjoyed talking with customers, that summer was important because I learned the nobility of work.

And you know what? I didn’t have to work at a lumberyard very long before I heard the Lord calling me to do something else.