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September 7, 2019

I have taught in the Religion Department at the University of South Carolina Upstate as an adjunct professor for the past eight years. This fall I am again teaching the introductory level course, Comparative Religion. I realized that for the first time many of my students were not even born before September 11, 2001.

A line from the musical South Pacific is a poignant reminder of how people become prejudiced.

Children have to be taught to hate and to fear.

They have to be carefully taught.

In the opening lecture of my class, I made it clear to the students that we will approach the study of world religions with respect for all people regardless of their faith orientation. This is a necessary prerequisite if the journey is to lead beyond tolerance to a genuine understanding of faiths other than our own. In my opinion, this approach is a much needed corrective to our current national mindset.

Perhaps never before in my lifetime has there been a more intense atmosphere of doubt and suspicion in our nation. After the atrocities of Adolph Hitler’s Germany, many Americans were guarded in our encounters with people of German heritage, even our fellow citizens. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many Americans became suspicious of people of Japanese origin.   The Cold War kept us on edge in our dealings with those of Russian descent.

Yet how deprived we would be without the musical compositions of Germans Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, Ludwig von Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, and Robert Schumann.

Think of our poverty without the music of Russians Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Igor Stravinsky or the writings of their countrymen Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Anton Chekhov, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The art and culture of Japan have long enriched American life. While we have had legitimate reasons to regard the governments certain countries at certain times as enemies, we have also found among those same people individuals who have made our lives better.

On the anniversary of 9/11 Americans will pause to remember the day when the twin towers fell in New York City, the Pentagon burned in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania became a charred grave. It is impossible to erase the mental images of the destruction of these important landmarks. Even more difficult is our overwhelming sense of loss and grief even after these years.

In worship services and symphony concerts, at baseball games and football games, at community events and candlelight vigils, we will remember.   The violent acts of al-Qaeda terrorists that turned our commercial jet planes into instruments of war changed our lives forever.

But, this was not just an attack against America.

The 2,977 victims who died that day were not only Americans. The World Trade Center brought together people from all over the globe. More than ninety countries lost citizens in the Twin Towers. This horror was unleashed not only against America. It was also a strike against the world.

We remember not only those who died, but also the more than 6,000 who were treated for nonfatal injuries. We remember the spouses and children of the victims, the parents, the siblings, and the friends who, even now, eighteen years later, continue to grieve.

We remember the heroic men and women who worked to save, rescue, recover, nurse, feed, and console the victims.  Some gave their lives in the effort, becoming victims themselves.  Many others have since become causalities of war, protecting and defending our national interest.

Like most of you, I remember that day well. I was driving to Morningside Baptist Church on the morning of September 11, 2001, when my wife, Clare, called me on my cell phone. “You need to turn on a television when you get to the church,” she said.

I telephoned the church office. The staff already had a TV on in the office.

When I arrived a crowd had gathered. We all watched in dismay as the second jet plane struck the second tower of the World Trade Center.

The events of that day were confusing and confounding. President George W. Bush was reading to a group of children in Florida when he received the news of the devastation. I, along with many other Americans, will never forget the expression on his face.

I had been asked to open the luncheon meeting of a civic club later that day with a devotion and a prayer. As I considered what to say to that distinguished group of community leaders, a hymn kept coming to mind. My devotion was brief. My prayer included some of the words of a favorite hymn by Martin Luther:

Though this world, with evil filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure….

The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;

His kingdom is forever.

Hatred is the motive behind terrorism. Terrorism evokes fear. Fear is the root of prejudice. Prejudice creates adversaries. An adversarial relationship promotes hatred. This vicious cycle must be broken. Otherwise, we become like the terrorists, and they will have defeated us.

A few days after September 11, 2001, Clare and I drove to Greenville. We had seen reports that indicated that Americans were reacting with hostility toward Muslim citizens of this country as well as people who looked like Muslims. Non-Muslim men who wore turbans, like the Sikhs, were victims of violence. Palestinians, even those who were American citizens, had come under suspicion and even under attack. About one-third of all Palestinians are Christians and make up the majority of Palestinian refugees. Many have come to America and have become citizens.

Clare and I have often enjoyed eating at the Pita House in Greenville. The restaurant, owned and operated by a Palestinian family, serves sumptuous Middle Eastern food. We wanted to visit them and let them know of our support. When we arrived, the establishment was decked out with American flags. I spoke with the brothers who are the owners. They felt the same horror and grief that other Americans felt. Yet they feared that they might be targeted by those who had become so suspicious and fearful.

Those who died on 9/11 will help us remember an important truth. No one lives, suffers, or dies in vain.   Even as we remain vigilant in a world of terror, such acts of hatred will not defeat us. Love is the greatest power in the world. We cannot allow terror to lead us to suspicion and hatred. Our best response to the atrocities of 9/11 is to become more loving toward all people. It is the only way to conquer fear and hate within the human soul.

The words of a prayer by South African Bishop Desmond Tutu ring true:

Good is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.


August 31, 2019

Our grandchildren are fascinated by books, new and old.  Several of them have been in summer reading programs through the public library. Clare and I firmly believe that one of Benjamin Franklin’s best ideas was the free public lending library. As members of the Friends of the Library, we make good use of the vast array of books and media resources offered at our local establishment.

Clare scans and reads an amazing assortment of these materials, often having several books going at one time. Recorded books also help her keep track of new authors and interesting titles. After filtering through the volumes, she advises me on materials I need to read.

Next week I will begin a new season of reading with a book club that is sheer delight. One member of the club recently said to me, “The thing I like best about our book club is that we actually read good books.” If you are looking for a book club, please join us on the first Tuesday of each month at 10:30 in the morning or at 7:00 in the evening. We meet in the Arthur Center at First Presbyterian Church. Though we meet in a church, our book club welcomes all people.

Sometimes when I am in the library and have a little extra time, I browse through the stacks. Two of the most enjoyable books I read in the past few years were titles I picked up doing just that. They were written by the well-known authors, Louis L’Amour and Pat Conroy. Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man and Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life are alike in that they provide insight into the voracious reading habits of these two prolific writers.

Pat Conroy was one year younger than I. He graduated from the Citadel one year after I finished Furman. We both remembered well the rivalry between the two colleges, especially one incident when Citadel Cadets kidnapped the Furman mascot, a magnificent white horse. Pat told the story in Beach Music.

I never met Pat Conroy; but because we were the same vintage, I was interested in his writing. His death in March 2016 came far too soon for many of us.

My connection to Louis L’Amour is less obvious. Born Louis Dearborn LaMoore in Jamestown, North Dakota, in 1908, he was considered one of the world’s most popular writers. At the time of his death in 1988, no fewer than 105 of his existing works were in print.  He is known primarily for his Western adventures, but my favorite is his full-length novel set in Siberia during the Cold War, The Last of the Breed.

Pat Conroy’s 2010 book, My Reading Life,  was the featured selection in the One Book, One Columbia program. Every February the capital city of South Carolina promotes literacy by encouraging all citizens to read the same book.

The 2015 choice was My Reading Life. In a conversation about the book with historian Walter Edgar, Pat Conroy identified a school teacher, Gene Norris, who had profoundly influenced his reading choices and his writing style.  Anyone who has attempted to write owes a debt of gratitude to others who have guided and influenced their lives.

One such influence in my life was my mother, who was an avid reader. She saw to it that her eight children had access to quality books. I remember the sacrifice she made to purchase the World Book Encyclopedia. What a marvelous resource to have in our home!

Early on I developed a habit that my dad found amusing, but one that served me well. When I looked up a topic in the encyclopedia, I always read at least one entry before and at least one after the item I was researching. For example, if I were looking up Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph, I would also read the history of Phoenicia and the Greek myth of the phoenix. Later, I started doing the same thing when looking up a word in my trusted Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

My mother and grandmothers encouraged me to read and memorize certain passages from the Bible. They used the time-honored Baptist method of bribery. I received a dollar for committing to memory the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and several of the Psalms. After I memorized Matthew Chapters 5, 6, and 7, which is the entire Sermon on the Mount, one grandmother gave me ten dollars.

As important as the Bible was, Mama encouraged us to read a wide variety of literature.

Clare and I treasure a verse by Strickland Gillilan:

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be –

I had a Mother who read to me.

My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter, was another encourager. She introduced me to the orange books. I much preferred biography and read many books of the Childhood of Famous Americans series. They were hardback books with bright orange covers. That same year Mama suggested that I read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Mrs. Estelle Lampley, my eighth-grade English teacher, was as tough as nails.  Determined to rid me of my lumberyard grammar, she assigned so many sentences to diagram that I sometimes do them in my sleep to this day.

After the eighth grade, I thought I had it made. I had passed the woman who surely must have been the hardest English teacher in the land. Then, lo and behold, I had Mrs. Lampley again in the eleventh grade. Her mission that year was to teach me to write the English language. Requiring reading beyond my comfort zone was her method. It was because of her that I discovered Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, and Thomas Wolfe.

At Furman University I majored in biology and minored in chemistry, planning to enter medical school upon graduation. During my first week at Furman I discovered the James B. Duke Library. Though I had been warned by well-intentioned Baptists about the evils of Charles Darwin, I realized that I needed to read the original documents for myself. I found Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, which chronicled the adventure of a lifetime for a young seminarian, absolutely fascinating.

Once I arrived at Southern Seminary I realized that a steady diet of scientific fare had made reading tedious. My professor, Dr. Wayne Oates, suggested I read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. I thought it a useless endeavor until I reached the final chapter. Adler made the point that by scanning the table of contents and the index, it was possible to quickly identify the most important chapters in a nonfiction book. My reading speed greatly increased.

I later purchased a set of Great Books of the Western World, edited by Mortimer Adler. I continue to enjoy the collection to this day.

When I received the Merrill Fellowship to Harvard Divinity School, I was asked to name the five books that had most influenced my life. I listed the King James Version of the Holy Bible; the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Oxford Annotated Edition; The Broadman Hymnal; The Tales of Uncle Remus, by Joel Chandler Harris, and the Boy Scout Handbook.

Harvard University, which has the oldest library system in the United States, includes seventy-three separate libraries. Once I arrived at Harvard, I was like a kid in a candy shop. When I found my stride I was devouring two books daily.

Louis L’Amour writes of the great joy that is to be found in books: “For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived; for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.”

I encourage you to visit the library. Select a book or two you might enjoy. Read, and as you do, you may discover that a window has opened to the big, wide world far beyond your bailiwick.


August 24, 2019

On Labor Day weekend several years ago, Clare and I were invited to attend a cookout at a beautiful lakeside home in the mountains. We stood on the patio with a group of friends enjoying the view across the water to the hills beyond. Our host was basting a Boston butt, a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the pig’s shoulder.

“What are you grilling?” a lady asked.

“Please don’t call it grilling,” the cook requested emphatically. “This separates hard-core barbecue enthusiasts from the uneducated novice. Think of the difference in romantic terms. Grilling is a quick, hot fling with a hamburger or a hot dog. Barbecuing is a long-term relationship. You have to spend a lot of time rubbing spices into a rack of ribs or a pork shoulder. Then you spend hours over a smoky wood fire. It’s a lot like making love. The real experts take it slow and easy!”

Blushing, the lady said, “My ex only knew how to grill. Maybe my future husband will be good at barbecue!”

Our host’s description gave us a new appreciation for the fine art of preparing genuine Southern barbecue.

Barbecue restaurants are among the most popular eateries in South Carolina. Some have operated for decades while there are newer ones appearing on the scene almost weekly. The August/September 2019 issue of Garden and Gun magazine gives a tour of some of the new barbecue joints across the South.

Those who are connoisseurs of barbecue know that the various types share a rich history.  The Spanish first introduced the pig into the Americas and to the American Indians. The Indians, in turn, introduced the Spanish to cooking with smoke in a pit.

The first colony on the American mainland was in what is now South Carolina. Spanish adventurers were Conquistadores in search of gold. Spanish colonists came later in the early 1500s. They named their colony Santa Helena. It was established in the area that we now call Port Royal in Beaufort County. The colony lasted almost 20 years. In that first American colony, Europeans learned to prepare and to eat slow-cooked pork.

The name barbecue derives from the word barabicu found in the language of both the Timucua of Florida and the Taíno people of the Caribbean. The word means sacred firepit.

Although barbecue is rooted in Dixie, most Americans do not have a clue about Southern barbecue.  The South Carolina Barbecue Association makes a clear distinction between grilled food and genuine barbecue.

A spokesperson for the group explains that many kinds of meat can be barbecued. Barbecued chicken, barbecued beef, barbecued turkey, barbecued mutton, and even barbecued possum are among the possibilities. Don’t even think about the barbecue Big George made out of Frank Bennett in the novel and movie Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fanny Flagg!

Because of its origins barbecue as a stand-alone noun can only be used properly to designate pork. Westerners enjoy barbecued beef, but it cannot rightly be referred to as barbecue. It must be called barbecued beef. To use barbecue as a noun can only mean pork.

Lewis Grizzard, the late columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had open-heart surgery to replace a coronary valve. The surgeon inserted a valve from a pig’s heart.

“Doesn’t it bother you to think that you have a pig’s valve in your heart?” Grizzard was asked.

“Not really,” he said, “but every time I drive past a barbecue place, my eyes water.”

Grizzard must have shed many a tear in his travels across the South.

Barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-q, BBQ: there are as many spellings as there are kinds of barbecue.  Purists insist that genuine barbecue be cooked in an open pit or a wood or charcoal smoker. They are adamant that neither lighter fluid nor aluminum foil ever be a part of the barbecue process. They want their pork pit-cooked the way their ancestors did.

One certified barbecue judge says that each cook develops a unique recipe for the rub used to prepare the pork. Rub is a blend of herbs and spices that enhance the flavor of the barbecue. It is literally rubbed into the meat before slow cooking.  Most rubs usually have a sweet component (sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar), a salty component (kosher salt, sea salt), a savory component (herbs), and a spicy component (black pepper, chili powder).

But, it is the sauce that distinguishes between the four varieties. South Carolina is home to all four. All Southern barbecue falls into one of these four categories: vinegar, mustard, light tomato, heavy red.

Slaves brought with them from the Caribbean a taste for red peppers. In the Southern colonies, barbecue sauce became part of the cuisine when spices and peppers were combined with vinegar. In eastern North Carolina pork seasoned with vinegar and peppers is a favorite.

When my brother Bill and his wife Wanda lived in Greenville, North Carolina, we enjoyed a barbecue plate at B’s Barbecue.  B serves fine vinegar-based pulled pork. The Scottish families who settled the Lowcountry were the South Carolinians who used vinegar and pepper barbecue sauce adapted from the slaves. Dr. Walter Edgar told me that he traveled fifty miles to speak to a Manning Garden Club because he was promised five pounds of McCabe’s barbecue as his honorarium.

German immigrants settled in the Midlands of South Carolina, especially in the Dutch Fork area. Those families received land grants on the Broad, Congaree, Saluda, and Santee Rivers. They brought with them their Lutheran faith and their taste for spicy mustard, which soon found its way into barbecue sauce. Many people know Maurice Bessinger. His sauce is a staple in southern grocery stores.

Clare and I frequently returned to her birthplace, Leesville, South Carolina. There we enjoyed Shealy’s buffet and Jackie Hite’s pulled pork. As we traveled to our family vacation on Pawley’s Island, we often stopped at Wise in Newberry County to take a supply of their barbecue in an ice chest to the beach. For Clare and her kin, only mustard-based barbecue is considered the real thing.

The third type of sauce is made from vinegar and pepper with tomato ketchup added. It is the sauce famous in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Lexington, North Carolina, is the acknowledged center for light tomato sauce.

North Carolina has declared the month of October as Barbecue Month. In the final two weeks of the month, the town of Lexington hosts the Barbecue Festival.  The last two Saturdays feature an annual North Carolina Championship Pork Cook-Off. Last year an estimated crowd of 150,000 attended the event.  The popularity of light tomato barbecue has spread into the Pee Dee region of South Carolina.

The fourth variety is heavy red sauce featured by the Beacon Drive-In located in my hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. I was in the place recently and witnessed two fellows from Pennsylvania reading the formidable menu. Dazed and confused by the array of choices, one asked me, “What are you having?”

“My favorite is an outside.” My answer didn’t help. They were more baffled than before. I showed it to them on the menu and explained.

“An outside is a barbecue sandwich. The meat is pulled from the outside of the pork shoulder, the part that has been basted and cooked to a mouthwatering crust. They put a little coleslaw on top and add heavy red sauce. If you don’t have gall bladder trouble, get an outside-a-plenty. They’ll cover up the sandwich with French fries and onion rings.”

“Is it really good?” he asked.

I noticed his Penn State sweatshirt. “You’ll be whistling ‘Dixie’ all the way back to Happy Valley.”

When Spartanburg native William Ball was Secretary of the Navy he asked John White, then owner of the Beacon, to cater a meal for three hundred sailors onboard a naval destroyer in the Mediterranean Sea. Beacon Barbecue was transported by helicopter to the ship.

The Beacon hosted the Inaugural Luncheon for Governor Donald Russell, a Spartanburg native, at the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia in 1963. Southern barbecue has been served to numerous Presidential candidates visiting the Beacon and to military personnel around the world.  Southern Living, Sandlapper, and Gourmet are among the magazines to feature Beacon barbecue. Charles Kuralt broadcast a segment on the Beacon in his “On the Road” television series.

The popularity of heavy red sauce has spread throughout the nation because of the insatiable sweet tooth of the modern American. Heavy red is featured at Neely’s Barbecue in Memphis, Tennessee. Pat and Gina Neely have one of the most successful barbecue restaurants in the south. Their television program “Down Home with the Neelys,” is broadcast on the Food Channel. Pat happens to be African-American. My brother Bill visited the Memphis restaurant, and he and Pat figured out that we are all distant cousins.

When it comes to barbecue, most Southerners have an impassioned preference.  Pig Out restaurant in Spartanburg County, offers customers both a mustard-based and a tomato-based sauce. Other barbecue places have developed their own special sauce that combines vinegar and tomato with other spices.

Preparing good Southern barbecue is a labor-intensive endeavor. One characteristic of the best barbecue restaurants is that the owner can almost always be found on location. Before her death in 2011, Sarah Shealy was at her cash register daily in Leesville checking out customers one by one just as John White did for so many years at the Beacon in Spartanburg. Jackie Hite, Joe Crook, and Harold Jennings all took a hands-on approach to cooking the barbecue they served.  Clare and I have been impressed at the time, effort, and loving care these master chefs put into their work.

While good barbecue places are in high demand, some folks prefer to prepare and cook their own meat at home. Maurice Pace has a large homemade wood-burning cooker. On holidays he fires it up with split oak and hickory logs.

One November several years ago he issued an invitation. “Why don’t you come down the day before Thanksgiving, and we’ll smoke a few turkeys and barbecue some ribs?”

“I have a problem smoking turkeys,” I said.

“What’s the problem?”

“I can’t figure out which end of the turkey to light!”


August 17, 2019

This far into summer, when I take a few minutes to sit quietly, I invariably become aware of a faint humming sound. It might be emanating from my car. The source may be my computer. The sound could come from a home appliance. But, humming sounds can be natural occurrences. Whales and dolphins beneath the ocean, many varieties of insects, and even the pulsating of heavenly bodies can produce distinctive hums. Some people hear a constant hum caused by the flow of their own blood in the small vessels of their inner ear. The sound is only heard by the person affected. The condition is known as tinnitus.

We might well ask, “What is that humming sound?” This time of year it could be a flurry of hummingbirds.

The last two weeks of August begin a season of frenetic activity for the diminutive hummingbird. On Monday of last week, I enjoyed a second cup of coffee with Clare on our screened back porch overlooking the flower garden. Hummingbirds provided entertainment while we read the newspaper. The tiny, feathered creatures put on quite an aerial display as they competed for the sweet nectar of the flowers and the sugar water in our feeders.

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, Clare and I again sat on our own back porch.  We were treated to an amazing air show.  As we enjoyed our supper, we witnessed an incredible display of aerobatics.  Agile flying machines were buzzing our yard, staging midair combat maneuvers that would impress even Air Force top guns. Late summer is the prime season for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are always interesting to watch. Their activity increases as the summer days grow shorter.  Their excited pace and almost perpetual motion are at once fascinating and wearying to the observer.

From late August through much of September, the tiny birds become frantic in their feeding habits and combative toward all competitors.  Earlier in the spring and summer, two or three hummingbirds might share the same feeder, but by early autumn they become territorial and will attack any intruder, even fellow hummers. Like feisty siblings squabbling over dessert, the tiny birds quarrel with each other over which one will have the next turn at their sugar water treat.

The flight of the humming creatures with tiny wings provides enthralling entertainment. The hummers put on quite a performance, hovering, darting, and diving, in their heightened frenzy. These warm days are the most active time for hummingbirds as they prepare for their long migration to Central and South America.

A friend who welcomes hummingbirds to her garden with feeders and blooming plants wanted to put fresh flowers in an arrangement for a dinner party at her home.  She cut several late-blooming red gladioli from her cottage garden.  As she did, what she thought was a large buzzing insect began to bother her.  The pest attacked from the rear, moving up her neck underneath the tresses of her freshly done hair.  The well-appointed lady ran, clutching gladioli tightly in one hand, swatting wildly with the other.

She stopped when the buzzing nuisance confronted her at eye level.  It was a hummingbird, clearly annoyed that the lady had cut the flowers from which it had been feeding.  The woman held the red gladioli at arm’s length as if making a peace offering.  The hummer moved from one blossom to the next in the handheld bouquet, drinking its fill, before flying off without further conflict.

A hummingbird in flight can be easily mistaken for a large stinging insect. The hummingbird’s tiny wings move so rapidly they make a buzzing sound.    This flight pattern, filmed in slow motion, reveals their remarkable ability to speed forward, to hover, and to reverse directions.

Hummingbirds are attracted to a variety of blooms.  Fiery red salvias, cup-shaped hibiscus, and even the common trumpet vine provide nourishment to these tiny creatures that are constantly in search of a meal.  Their frenetic activity demands a continual supply of sugary food.  They sip nectar and can be enticed into view with feeders filled with fresh sugar water.  A mixture of one part sugar and four parts of water meets the dietary requirements of these small birds.  It is best for the health of hummers if we do not add red food coloring.

Accounts of close encounters between human and hummers abound.  The tiny birds are frequently trapped in garages and on screened porches, usually drawn into these unfriendly confines by something bright red in color.  A red toolbox or a red fire extinguisher can lure a hummingbird into an open garage.  One was even seen attempting to extract nectar from a red plastic bicycle horn.

Several years ago, a ruby-throated hummingbird, attracted by a cut flower arrangement, entered a large sunroom in a nursing facility.  The patients all suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  Most of the patients were in the final stage of the illness, sometimes known as the living death.  The nursing staff was unaware of the hummingbird’s presence until they noticed something they rarely saw.  Several of the patients were smiling, some for the first time in months.  With the aid of a towel, a nurse was able to capture the tiny bird and release it outdoors.  The bird flew away but not before bestowing a gentle blessing on a room full of people who needed tender mercy.

This year, Clare and I have especially enjoyed watching with our grandchildren the hummingbirds at a feeder just outside our dining room window. The small birds are entertaining to young children as well as to those of us who are senior adults.

One of our granddaughters remarked, “If you want to see a hummingbird, you have to look fast.”

If you pay attention, you may hear a humming sound.

It may be a hummingbird bringing a special blessing just for you.


August 11, 2019

I noticed in a church bulletin last week that a local congregation was celebrating Dog Days with a hot dog lunch after church on Sunday, August 11. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Dog Days of summer are traditionally the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, so the congregation timed their event perfectly.

I was saddened to hear the story of a dog that was found by a police officer in a hot car at a shopping mall last week. The officer shattered the car window to rescue the bulldog from the sweltering car. The animal was lying on the passenger seat, panting, wheezing, and unable to move. The officer took the dog to an emergency veterinary clinic before transporting him to the Humane Society. The shelter reported that the dog died due to complications from heat stroke after he was left in the car. The dog’s owner was arrested and charged with animal cruelty,

Earlier this summer, I read the story about a woman who left her miniature schnauzer inside her automobile in a hot parking lot while she spent more than an hour in an air-conditioned beauty salon. Though she left the windows partially opened so her pet would have fresh air, the well-coifed lady returned, only to find that her dog had died. She, too, was charged with animal cruelty.

It makes you wonder why we call these hot, humid days the Dog Days of summer.

How hot is it?

The old clichés can be heard most anywhere folks can find a shady place to sit and complain.

“Hotter than a two-dollar pistol!”

“Hotter than a forty-dollar mule!”

“So hot that when I dug up potatoes in my garden, they were already baked.”

“So hot that we had to feed the hens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs.”

Since I was a boy I have known that the weeks between my mother’s birthday on July 4 and mine near the end of August were the Dog Days of summer. Though the local weather reports indicated a few cooler days last week, I’ve been around long enough to know that the hottest days may still be ahead of us.

How hot has it been?

A friend, with beads of perspiration dripping down his face, grumbled, “It’s hotter than half of Georgia.” He must have meant the half that includes Atlanta, which like Columbia, always seems hotter than any place nearby.

When our daughter lived in Nashville she called to report that on a particularly sweltering day her beagle was missing. After a thorough search of the premises, she found her pup stretched out in the empty cool porcelain bathtub as if waiting for someone to turn on the water. Dogs suffer as much as people do when the temperatures rise into the 90s. They, too, are uncomfortable in the oppressive heat. Dog Days are the time of year to be dog tired or to be as sick as a dog. It is an annual occurrence when otherwise good folks might just go to the dogs or be reduced to leading a dog’s life.

So why is this time of the year referred to as the Dog Days of summer?

If you can find a place where the night sky is unobscured by artificial lights and pollution, the stars are clearly visible.  People of ancient cultures gazed into the heavens, imagining that they were seeing figures depicted in the stars.  It was an ancient version of connecting the dots.  We now call the configurations they saw constellations.         Amazingly, Native Americans, the ancient Chinese, and the people of Greece and Rome all saw similar patterns in the stars.  In these different cultures, separated by oceans, stargazers gave the constellations the same names.  Big and Little Bear to Native Americans were Ursa Major and Ursa Minor to the Greeks.  Ursa means bear.  We know these constellations best as the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper.  Diverse cultures saw the likeness of a bull in the constellation Taurus, though to Native Americans the bull was a bison.

The Greeks also identified Canis Major and Canis Minor mean Big Dog and Little Dog. The brightest star in Canis Major is Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius was thought to be the shining nose of the dog regarded as the companion of Orion, the hunter constellation. The Dog Star is so brilliant the Romans thought of it as a secondary sun, providing heat to the earth.

To the Greeks and Romans, the Dog Days began in late July, when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun. They continued into late August as long as the Dog Star rose and set with the sun.  They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever or even catastrophe. Ancient people believed that the conjunction of the sun and the Dog Star caused an extended period of hot, muggy weather; hence the name, Dog Days.

Dog Days arrive when the humid weather of summer sets in.  In the old days, this was a time when the pace of life slowed way down, a time when families went to the mountains for cooler temperatures.  People from the Lowcountry came to the Upstate to the resorts like Glenn Springs to escape, not only the sultry days of summer but also the danger of malaria carried by mosquitoes.

Dog Days are no longer a period of inactivity.  Commercially, we have added a tax-free weekend, which has become one of the busiest times for retail shopping, second only to the days after Thanksgiving.  Many schools begin their fall term in the Dog Days of summer at a time when it is almost too hot to go fishing.

Maybe the best way to cope with Dog Days is the old-fashioned way. Back before air conditioning was available, people knew this was a time to take it easy. Sitting outside after the sun went down, spending the night on a sleeping porch, sipping iced tea in the shade, or soaking in a creek were all ways of coping with the heat. Some women kept their perfume bottles in the refrigerator. One man revealed that he placed plastic bags of frozen vegetables between his sheets a few minutes before bedtime.

Clare and I each have reusable ice packs that we keep in the freezer. They are intended to sooth the ordinary aches and pains that are a part of grandparenting.  During the Dog Days, an ice pack provides blessed relief for me after a couple of hours of gardening or for Clare when she takes a break from her work.

Returning from a trip to Tennessee several years ago, Clare and I drove along old United States highway 64, the longest numbered road in North Carolina. It travels 604 miles from the Tennessee state line to the Outer Banks, quite literally from Murphy to Manteo. Dating back to the era of the Model T, this winding two-lane road twists through the North Carolina mountains, into gorges, by rivers and waterfalls, and through quaint towns. A portion of the blue line highway is designated as the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway.

I stopped for gasoline at a convenience store near Franklin, North Carolina. As I stood at the counter to pay for a tank of gas, a rough-hewn mountain man ahead of me purchased two cold beers, and then requested a plastic cup and a plastic bowl. When I left the store, I caught a glimpse of the man sitting in the shade of a large sycamore tree. Next to him was a big red dog. The man opened both bottles of beer, pouring one in the cup for himself and the other in the bowl for his pet. As I pumped gasoline into my car, I saw the man finish his beer and the dog lap the bowl dry. Having finished their beers the man and his best friend dog stretched out on the grass beneath the tree for a nap.

Dog Days indeed!


August 4, 2019

You have to admire a guy who goes to work every day in blue jeans to tackle one of the toughest jobs on Planet Earth. He accepts his assigned task without complaint, with a passion for his profession that is undiminished, and with a reputation for loyalty and faithfulness that is unblemished. The amazing thing is that he has been on the job, 24/7, for seventy-five years. Commendable in every way, this is a fellow of few words. He utters only one sentence, but for seventy-five years his message has been loud and clear — “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”

Smokey the Bear is an advertising mascot created in 1944 to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. During World War II, the Japanese Empire developed a wildfire strategy to set ablaze coastal forests in southwest Oregon. In 1944 and 1945, the Japanese military launched approximately 9,000 fire balloons into the jet stream. As many as ten percent reached the West Coast of the United States. Elementary school teacher Elsie Mitchell and five of her students were killed by one of the bombs near Bly, Oregon, on May 5, 1945.

Though the United States Forest Service fought fires long before World War II, the war brought a sense of urgency to the effort. Since most able-bodied men were already serving in the armed forces, none could be spared to fight forest fires. Fire prevention became a goal. The hope was that if Americans knew how wildfires would harm the war effort, they would better cooperate with the Forest Service to keep fires from starting in the first place.

A bear was chosen as the emblem of the fire prevention campaign. His name was inspired by Joe Martin, a New York City Fire Department hero who suffered burns and blindness during a bold 1922 rescue. Joe’s nickname, Smokey, was given to the bear.

Smokey’s debut poster was released on August 9, 1944. In the first poster illustrator Albert Staehle depicted Smokey wearing jeans and a campaign hat. The hat was like that worn by the National Park Service Rangers. Their hat was derived from the cavalry who protected the early national parks. In the poster, Smokey is pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The message underneath read, “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” The more familiar slogan, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires”, was created in 1947 by the Advertising Council.

Recently, one of our granddaughters asked, “Is Smokey a real bear?”

Clare has a first print copy of the 1955 book in the Vintage Children’s Little Golden Books series entitled Smokey the Bear by Jane Werner & Richard Scarry. She remembered that her mother bought it for her in the grocery store years ago. We found the book and read the story to our granddaughter.

In the spring of 1950, a wildfire burned 17,000 acres in the Lincoln National Forest in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. An American black bear cub, separated from his mother, was caught in the fire. He had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. According to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, a group of soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who had come to help fight the fire, rescued the bear cub.

At first, he was called Hotfoot Teddy, but he was later renamed Smokey, after the forestry service mascot. The cub’s permanent home became the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.  When he arrived at the zoo, several hundred spectators, including members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, photographers, and media, were there to welcome him.

Smokey the Bear lived at the National Zoo for twenty-six years. During that time he received millions of visitors as well as so many letters addressed to him that in 1964 the United States Postal Service gave him his own zip code. Smokey’s daily diet included bluefish and trout. But the growing bear quickly developed a taste for peanut butter sandwiches.

Smokey died on November 9, 1976. His remains were returned by the government to the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. He was buried at what is now the Smokey Bear Historical Park. The plaque at his grave reads, “This is the resting place of the first living Smokey Bear…the living symbol of wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation.”

The Washington Post ran an obituary for Smokey, calling him a transplanted New Mexico native who had resided for many years in Washington, D.C., with long tenure in government service.

A spokesperson for the Advertising Council reports that ninety-four percent of Americans recognize Smokey Bear. He has survived several generations. He has joined Facebook and now has nearly 25,000 followers on Twitter.

The original name was Smokey Bear. That changed in1952 when Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote the song “Smokey the Bear.” The writers said, “the” was added to Smokey’s name to keep the song’s cadence.

There is no doubt that Smokey has been an effective advocate for fire prevention. In 1944 about 22 million acres were lost every year to wildfires. Today, the average is down to around 6.7 million acres due in large part to Smokey. Still, there are more than 62,000 wildfires are caused by humans every year in this country.

The iconic bear has made his point through a single slogan that became the watchword of those who love the backcountry. Coined in 1947, Smokey’s message has been recognized by millions for more than five decades. “Remember … only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Wildfire experts contend that naturally occurring low-intensity fires are necessary to good forestry management. They argue that decades of fire suppression create forests unnaturally dense with fuel. Periodic wildfires are an integral part of the ecosystems depend on natural fires for vitality, rejuvenation, and regeneration. So, in 2001, Smokey’s slogan was officially amended to “Only YOU can prevent wildfires.” It is also a reminder that other areas, such as grasslands, are in danger of burning.

Smokey has been honored in many ways. The Congress of the United States has protected his name and his image.

The Smokey Bear Awards are presented by the United States Forest Service: “To recognize outstanding service in the prevention of wildfires and to increase public recognition and awareness of the need for continuing fire prevention efforts.”

For Smokey’s 40th anniversary, he was honored with a U.S. postage stamp that pictured a bear cub hanging onto a burned tree.

When I was in elementary school, our class put on a play. I had the part of Smokey the Bear complete with hat, blue jeans, and shovel. With a group of other children, I sang the song.

Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.

Prowlin’ and a growlin’ and a sniffin’ the air.

He can find a fire before it starts to flame.

That’s why they call him Smokey,

That is how he got his name.

The commercial for his 50th anniversary portrayed woodland animals giving a surprise birthday party for Smokey, featuring a cake with fifty candles. Smokey came to the party blindfolded. He smelled smoke. Unaware that the smoke was from the birthday candles, he leaped into action.  He used his shovel to destroy the cake. When he took off his blindfold, ever the gentleman, he saw his mistake and apologized.

This month Smokey the Bear turns seventy-five years old, and so do I. I warned my family not to put seventy-five candles on my cake. At the very least it would probably set off our smoke alarm. And, who knows? I might just smash the cake with a shovel!


July 28, 2019

In the year 1918, ninety-five years ago, a group of illegal aliens entered this country unnoticed through the port of Mobile, Alabama. These immigrants, stowaways on a ship arriving from South America, soon became migrants, spreading throughout the South.  They were a prolific lot, producing many offspring.  Moving north, east, and west, they eventually reached South Carolina.

I have suffered many unpleasant close encounters of the third kind with these unwelcome invaders. Several years ago, I had a painful meeting with these aliens while I was in my garden. As I was planting daylilies that I had divided, I disturbed a colony of these pesky intruders. Immediately, a swarm of Solenopsis Invicta, black fire ants, boiled up out of the ground covering my left arm.

Fire ants are nasty little critters. They lock their jaws into your flesh and inject venom from the other end, biting and stinging simultaneously.

The United States Army recommends using bleach as first aid. I keep a bottle in my tool shed.  I poured Clorox on both arms, waited a few minutes, then rinsed it off with cool water. I took Benadryl every day the following week and used a lot of cortisone cream. A week later I was still itching from the attack.

As a boy, I was stung by honey bees, sweat bees, or yellow jackets ten or twelve times every summer. A sting is an occupational hazard when cutting grass, hiking, camping, and fishing. My grandfather offered a folk remedy for stings.  He would bite off the end of his cigar, chew it, and then slather the tobacco juice on the wound.

Over time, I have developed an allergy to stinging insects.  As a precaution, I now carry a sting kit that includes Benadryl and a prescription hypodermic of epinephrine, a form of adrenaline. The kit also contains a regular shaker of powdered meat tenderizer, which neutralizes the venom of a stinging insect by breaking down the protein.

Insect stings can be deadly. More people die in the United States every year from insect stings than poisonous snake bites or shark attacks.

An allergy to stinging insects keeps you on your toes. A general rule is to expose as little skin as possible and to use insect repellent during the warm months.

I completely gave up using aftershave when my allergy was diagnosed. Instead, I use unscented rubbing alcohol, which doesn’t attract anything. I also gave up short-sleeve shirts and short pants. Believe me; the world is better for it.

More than thirty years ago I traveled with a group of twenty-three men on a rafting trip down the Nolichucky River. As I stepped out of the van at the outfitter in Erwin, Tennessee, even before we started down the river, a yellow jacket stung me on the leg.  One of the men, who happened to have a wad of chewing tobacco, applied the familiar poultice.   It didn’t help at all.

It was then that I began to experience my first severe allergic reaction.  My whole body turned fiery red, golf-ball-size knots developed beneath the skin on the back of my head and neck, and my breathing became labored. There in the remote Blue Ridge, by a mountain river, I was in trouble!

Fortunately, among the twenty-three men were my family doctor, a cardiologist, an anesthesiologist, and two pharmaceutical representatives. Before I could turn around, they had given me a dose of Benadryl.  The cardiologist, family physician, and anesthesiologist all recognized that I was having a severe anaphylactic reaction.

The three physicians and I climbed into a four-wheel-drive vehicle and rumbled along a rugged logging road over a mountain to a drugstore in Erwin.  We were a motley crew, dressed as we were for a day of rafting. When my physician demanded the appropriate medications of cortisone, epinephrine, and two hypodermic needles, I am sure the pharmacist thought it was a holdup.  The pharmacist only blinked until my family doctor pulled out his wallet and presented his medical credentials.  The cardiologist monitored my pulse, the anesthesiologist my breathing. Spread out on the drugstore floor, I received a shot of cortisone in one arm and a shot of adrenaline in the other.  Soon, I was just fine.

The anesthesiologist revealed how relieved he was when he saw that I was recovering.  He chuckled, “We had drawn straws to see who might have to give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  I got the short straw.”

By the time we made our way back to the river, I was all revved up for the trek. I don’t believe the three doctors who had jumped in the raft with me had to paddle much at all. I was so pumped up on adrenaline that I rowed nonstop all day long.  I had so much cortisone in me that I never felt sore.

Three years after our experience on the Nolichucky River, the anesthesiologist and I were regular fishing buddies. One warm spring morning we were headed to a trout stream that held great promise.  As he drove his old Jeep on a backcountry road in North Carolina, an insect flew into the open window and lit on the dashboard in front of me. It looked like a yellow jacket on steroids with its long distinctive black and yellow markings on the abdomen. Though I didn’t know what the insect was, I did know that it was not a good traveling companion.

My friend quickly pulled the Jeep over to the side of the road and stopped.  He reached out his hand and grabbed that insect, which immediately stung him.  He then threw the critter out the window, scraped the sting with his pocketknife, and applied some ointment to the spot.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“Listen.  I barely avoided giving you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation three years ago.  I didn’t want to put myself in that situation again.  Besides, I really want to go trout fishing today. If you get stung, it’s a big deal.  If I get stung, we can still fish.”

The last time a yellow jacket stung me was moments before I was to conduct a graveside funeral service. The yellow and black insect was nestled inside a floral wreath, an expression of sympathy to the family of the dearly departed. As I stood close to the casket, the insect nailed me on the bottom lip.

The funeral director and the soloist, both aware of my allergy, wondered if I might resign my role as pastor and join the ranks of the deceased. A good friend stood close by with my emergency shot. It had been more than ten years since my last sting, the one at the funeral was what allergists label a free sting. That is to say that after a long time between stings, the next one is unlikely to cause a severe reaction.

Fire ant stings are, so far, not nearly as serious for me as those of yellow jackets. Still, those tiny ants pack a wallop and deliver several days of discomfort.

Recently, I learned that pyramid ants and fire ants are natural enemies. In fact, the favorite food of the pyramid variety is fire ants. The pyramid ants thrive in sunny, open spaces, usually near the nests of other kinds of ants. Their nests – small craters that resemble tiny volcanoes – are easily recognized.

I have decided to be more selective in using ant killers, eliminating only the stinging fire ants. Pyramid ants have an open invitation to my place. The buffet is always open. Come and get it!