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August 28, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one of these agencies. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Hope Center for Children, Post Office Box 1731, Spartanburg, SC 29304, (864) 583-7688.

A month or so ago, I spoke with a young couple by telephone about their futile attempts to have a child. They literally had tried everything from homeopathic treatments to fertility measures, all to no avail. Quietly weeping, the young woman said, “Our time to be parents is slipping away. We would like to consider adoption, but our parents object. My father says adoption is taking a big chance. You never know what kind of child you’ll get.”

“Your father is correct,” I said. “But that is also true for parenting in general. Parenting is always a risk without any guarantees. If you decide to adopt, the one thing that is somewhat certain is that you will get a child.”

 During the Civil War, Zachary Taylor Hutson fought in the Wilderness Campaign with Robert E. Lee. When the War ended, Z.T. Hutson was mustered out of the Confederate Army. He took a train south to Spartanburg. From there, he walked all the way to his family farm in Barnwell County. He made the 130-mile journey hobbling on a wounded leg and suffering from tuberculosis. The trek took a full week.

In time, Z.T. and his wife, Simpie Getsinger, had two sons, Willie and Joe.  Willie eventually took responsibility for the farm. He served as a representative from Barnwell County to the State Legislature.  Joe, the younger son, left Barnwell County and moved to the Upstate. He attended Getsinger Business School, founded by his uncle Joseph Jasper Getsinger. There he met Belle Haynsworth from Darlington.

Joe and Belle lived in Spartanburg. They were the parents of five sons and one daughter. Joe changed the spelling of his name from Hutson to Hudson. 

After his first wife died, Willie married Mollie Woodward.  Her father was Robert E. Lee Woodward.  Willie gained a stepdaughter from Mollie’s first marriage. Willie and Mollie had four sons and then a daughter, Louise. 

When little Louise was only six weeks old, her mother, Mollie, died. 

Joe and Belle traveled from Spartanburg to Barnwell County for the funeral.  Following the burial in the cemetery of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, Willie handed his infant daughter across Mollie’s grave to his sister-in-law, Belle. 

Willie said to Joe and Belle, “I don’t b’lieve I can raise this little girl on a farm with these four boys. I’d be obliged if you’d take her with you to Spartanburg. I’d ‘preciate it if you’d rear her as your own.” 

That baby girl was my mother.  Her aunt and uncle, Joe and Belle Hudson adopted her.  Because her adopted parents and her birth father were so closely related, she always regarded both families as hers.  In essence, she was the youngest of twelve children in the two families combined.  She had a good relationship with all of these older brothers and sisters of the two families throughout her life.  She thought of both Willie and Joe as her daddies, calling them Little Daddy and Big Daddy.

I knew my grandmother, Belle Hudson, as Granny. In her Last Will and Testament, Granny included these words, “And to my niece Louise, whom I have always regarded as my daughter, my desire is that she share and share alike with my other children.”

My mother wept tears of joy.

Granny’s estate was very modest. Her love for her family was extravagant.

My mother’s inheritance was not wealth. It was acceptance and a sense of belonging.

On October 31, 2011, Clare and I became grandparents of two precious children, a brother, and a sister, adopted by our son and his wife, our daughter-in-law. These two children are counted among our thirteen grandchildren. We love and cherish all thirteen of our grands. Each is a unique individual; each is created in the image of God, and each one is a blessing in our lives.

In family court on adoption day, I saw a group of caring adults gathered around these children. There were smiles all around. The judge was all business until the legal proceedings were concluded. Then he posed for photographs along with adoptive parents and two sets of grandparents. Because it was Halloween Day, he offered our new grandchildren the first trick-or-treat gift of the day, Tootsie Pops.

When I shook the judge’s hand to thank him, he commented, “In family court, I hear many sad, even tragic, stories. A case like this, where two children are placed in their forever family, is what brings me joy. This makes my work worthwhile.”   

In our family, we regard adoption as a blessing, but it is not that way for some. At, there are numerous stories of people for whom being adopted has been a painful experience. Nearly every person who has been adopted has questions about their birth parents. Many know that their adoptive parents have loved them and provided for them in ways that their birth parents could not have. However, for some, adoption carries a lifelong stigma.

In the church that I served for eighteen years, we were fortunate to have several adoptive families. It has been my privilege to dedicate children who are chosen through adoption at birth. I have baptized young people who were foster children and were later adopted by their foster parents. In these situations, adoption is a blessing to the child, the parents, and the church.

Those, like my mother, who are adopted, have a special place in the world. In a very real sense, they are the chosen ones. 

A list of famous people who were adopted includes people of diverse backgrounds and occupations. Moses, the biblical leader of the Jews, Lakota war chief Crazy Horse, and comedian Art Linkletter, are on the roll.

Among the politicians on the list are John Hancock and Nelson Mandela. Civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson were adopted.

The list includes inventor George Washington Carver, naturalist John Audubon, Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s Restaurants, and Steve Jobs of Apple computer.      

Philosophers Aristotle and Jean Jacques Rousseau are included. Authors Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes were adopted.

 The Associated Press published the story of Captain Scott Southworth of Wisconsin. Scott knew he would face violence when he was deployed with his Military Police unit to one of Iraq’s most dangerous areas. What he didn’t expect to find was nine-year-old Ala’a, a boy suffering from cerebral palsy. Ala’a, abandoned on the street in Baghdad, had been taken to the orphanage of the Sisters of Mercy founded by Mother Teresa. On a visit with his unit in 2003, Scott met the black-haired and brown-eyed Ala’a. The boy dragged himself to the side of the 31-year-old American Captain Southworth and won the soldier’s heart.

Over the next ten months, the unit returned to the orphanage several times. A bond developed between Southworth and Ala’a. The boy began referring to Scott as Baba, Arabic for Daddy.

Iraqi law prohibits foreigners from adopting Iraqi children. Immigration laws in this country are also prohibitive. Homeland security in the United States was another hurdle.

The process took several years. Undaunted, Southworth prevailed, and Ala’a became his adopted son.

Adoption is not without difficulties, but adoption is indeed a blessing!

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at


August 21, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one of these agencies. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg, 2270 South Pine Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302, (864) 591-2221.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had lunch once every three months with a group of friends who graduated with me from high school. The last time we met, seventeen of us, all members of the Class of 1962 at Spartanburg High School, gathered at a local restaurant.

It is difficult to imagine how old those former classmates have grown. Most of us hobbled to the table, examined the menu through corrective lens, and almost to a person ordered the same thing we ate the last time we were together. After a brief time of reviewing health issues, we enjoyed sharing stories and memories from the good old days.

When our food was served, I watched the friend across the table from me. He picked up a bottle of Tabasco Sauce and proceeded to turn his cup of crab bisque fiery red with the hot sauce. He shook copious amounts of the magic elixir on his hamburger and his side salad as well. I asked the waitress to bring him more water. He laughed and said dryly, “Tabasco Sauce makes everything better.”

I was reminded of one of our treasured family stories.  The first time my mother shared a meal with my father’s family was on a Sunday after church.  The event occurred two years before my birth.  I’ve heard the tale and repeated it so often I feel almost as if I was there.

The woman who would become my mother was the sweetheart of the man who would become my dad.  He took her to Sunday dinner at his family home, the very home in which Clare and I now reside, the home where we reared our own five children.

My dad was one of nine children.  The dining room table was large enough to accommodate the entire family. My grandfather, who I called Pappy, asked the blessing and then grabbed a bottle of Tabasco Sauce, shaking the contents all over his salad, a lettuce leaf topped with a pear half, filled with a dollop of mayonnaise, and garnished with grated cheese, and a maraschino cherry.

My mother, seated across from my grandfather, was stunned when she saw her future father-in-law dousing his pear salad with pepper sauce.  Noticing her surprise, Pappy quipped, “Louise, if you get ahold of something you don’t like, change it to something you do like.”

Tabasco sauce will change the taste of anything. Some folks, like Pappy, vow that the hot condiment makes everything better

Edmund McIlhenny, who invented Tabasco sauce, was a banker from Maryland who had moved to Louisiana around 1840.

McIlhenny was an avid gardener. A friend gave him seeds of red peppers from Mexico. At his home on Avery Island in south Louisiana, Edmund sowed the seeds and nurtured the plants to maturity.  The peppers they bore were a delight.

McIlhenny created a pepper sauce to add spice and flavor to food. Selecting and crushing the reddest peppers, he mixed them with salt, aging the mash for a month in crockery jars. McIlhenny then blended the mash with white wine vinegar. Aging the mixture another thirty days, he strained and bottled it.

It proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market his pepper sauce. He grew his first commercial pepper crop in 1868. The next year, he sent out 658 bottles of sauce to wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. He labeled it Tabasco, named for the state in Mexico from which those first seeds came.

McIlhenny secured a patent in 1870, and TABASCO® Brand Pepper Sauce began to set the culinary world on fire.

Labeled in 22 languages and dialects, sold in over 160 countries and territories, it is the most famous, most preferred pepper sauce in the world.

Tabasco Sauce is still made on Avery Island, Louisiana, at the very site where Edmund McIlhenny planted his first garden. Half of the company’s 200 employees live on Avery Island. Their parents and grandparents worked and lived there as well. The current president of the family-owned company is a sixth generation McIlhenny.

Until recently, all of the peppers were grown on Avery Island. The bulk of the crop is now grown in South America, where weather allows a more predictable supply.

Following tradition, the peppers are handpicked. Peppers are checked with a little red stick, le petit bâton rouge, to determine ripeness. Those peppers not matching the color of the stick are not harvested.

Peppers are ground, mixed into mash, and put into old white oak whiskey barrels to age for three years. The bright red mash is so corrosive that forklifts are reported to last only six years.

In addition to the original red Tabasco Sauce, several new types of sauces are now produced under the brand name. In addition, the company has cashed in on its name by licensing apparel including neckties and boxer shorts.

The hot sauce is used to season a variety of foods. It has been used to change the taste of desserts and even pear salad. NASA put Tabasco Sauce on the menu for Skylab, the International Space Station, and shuttle missions.

The spicy sauce has made appearances in two James Bond movies.

The official Web site of the McIlhenny Company,, has nearly 200 pages of stories and comments from Tabasco afficionados. Among the entries are suggestions for alternate uses for the hot sauce.

  • Sprinkle Tabasco on flower and vegetable plants to repel pests, especially deer and rabbits.
  • Can’t get your teenager out of bed to get to school on time? A drop of Tabasco on their lip will awaken them.
  • Use a spoonful of Tabasco as a cough remedy.

These comments are included.

  • “When I was much younger my grandmother put Tabasco Sauce on my fingertips to stop me from chewing my nails. Half a century later, I still bite my nails, and I love Tabasco!”
  • “When I was little, if I talked back to momma, she would put Tabasco in my mouth. Soon, I started having a smart mouth on purpose because I loved the taste! To this day I’m just as sassy, and I love Tabasco even more!”
  • “My kitchen is full of Tabasco memorabilia. I even named my dog Tabasco!”
  • “My husband loves Tabasco Sauce so much, he asked me to get a Tabasco tattoo. He thinks it’s hot!”

Following the tradition of my grandfather, one of my cousins uses Tabasco on almost everything. I’m not sure if his wife has a Tabasco tattoo or not.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at


August 14, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one agency. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen, 136 S Forest Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29306, (864) 585-0022.

South Carolina boasts an interesting array of local festivals. Though some were c0nceled this past year because of the pandemic, most will be resumed. Charleston is host to Spoleto. The town of Salley is home to the Chitlin’ Strut.  Leesville has a Poultry Festival. Irmo features the Okra Strut; Pageland, a Watermelon Festival; Gaffney, 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 its 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.

The festival presents a weekend of stories featuring Lunch and Laugh on Friday and Ghost Tales on Friday night. There is a full day of stories on Saturday, including historic tales, stories for children, and an afternoon of New Voices, Story Slam, Liars Tale Competition, and Amateur Hour. Saturday night brings 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. She 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 flavors. 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. The story might be called button soup, wood soup, nail soup, or ax soup in these forms.

Before the pandemic, 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. I was invited to be a storyteller at the Woodruff festival several years ago. My experience there was that everybody was certainly well fed. But we were also enriched through our stories.

The legend of Stone Soup is a parable about how a community can come together. No one is left out. All are included. The result is that the entire community is enriched by a common goal and a shared meal. It reveals a truth about our life together. When we unite, we each become stronger. Our happiness increases because we are helping each other.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at