Vertiginous

Vertiginous

A word I had not thought of in years

Capable of causing vertigo

Creating a sense of imbalance and disquiet

I like stark raving, bonkers, barking better

Crazy as a rat in a certain house

Needs to be checked into a padded cell

If you are a South Carolinian of a certain age, you’d understand if I said, “She belongs on Bull Street”

Former location of the State Hospital….also known as our looney bin

About whom am I speaking?

Everyone

But, especially, the woman at the grocery store

Not young

Not well dressed

Not full of the milk of human kindness even though her buggy was full of Lactaid

So much Lactaid

As the young man working in the produce section re-stocked the lettuces near faux milk filled buggy, she screamed, “YOU CANNOT BE HERE. YOU’RE WITHIN SIX FEET OF ME. I’M HIGH RISK. YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW. MOVE! NOW! YOU CANNOT BE HERE! GET AWAY FROM ME! HE’S BREAKING THE LAW!”

Her arms flailed

She truly screamed

The nice lad replied, “Well, Ma’am, may be you should have stayed home.”

She then went on another diatribe

“I AM 76 YEARS OLD! YOU CANNOT BE THIS CLOSE TO ME!

I mean screamed

Glenn, who has worked at this store forever, whom some of you may know, went by and said, “Oh, she’s upset…oh she’s upset..oh she’s upset”

She was madder than a wet hen

Bonkers

Capable of causing vertigo

My head swam at what she was doing

What have we become?

She wasn’t nice

She wasn’t nice at all

Her foot ware should have been the tell

Screaming near the red leaf

Yelling by the romaine

Break down by the Boston

Poor dear

I watched in horror

I told the young man that obviously she’s not well

I told the young man that he was doing a great job

He was shaking

So was I

I’ve never seen such a display near cruciferous vegetables

Tart it Up

My great aunt Marion Peagler, late of Savannah, won the title of best cook in our family

Hands down

Champ

A life long weight watcher, fat phobic, and stylish dresser, it’s amazing that Aunt Marion didn’t weigh a ton considering her freezer always had containers of okra stew, raw beaten biscuit ready for baking, what she called ham steaks, McKenzie gold foil butter beans, and these perfect little cream cheese tarts

Bacon drippings remained in a dedicated container ready to season those butter beans and all manner of vegetables

Real butter only

Full fat everything

She taught me to make her cheese straws, which were the stuff of legend

A great old school Southern cook who embraced the microwave, the food processor, and any new gadget to come from the mind of engineers

She gave me “Aunt” Blanche Grundy’s shrimp creole receipt

She gave me my great grandmother’s tea punch written in her curling cursive

Her crab dip notes say “bake in petit pans” whatever those may be

One of my all time favorites of hers was indeed those cream cheese tarts

I call them Aunt Marion’s Cream Cheese Tarts

Easy as can be

People eat them and about die off

A perfect base for fresh fruit in season

My favorite is to serve them with peaches, macerated in a little sugar with the smallest hint of almond extract

So good in late July and August when it’s hot and peaches are in season

Also great with any form of berry macerated in a little sugar

Aunt Marion shared this receipt with everyone, so, here ‘tis

Take them out of the freezer and onto the plate

Easily doubled, too, by the way

And, because we all could use something sweet these days, I’m proud to share this with all 27 of my followers

Enjoy

Aunt Marion’s Cream Cheese Tarts

8 oz. cream cheese, softened and at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 container Cool Whip – seriously – COOL WHIP -thawed

Line twelve muffin cups with cupcake liners.

In a mixing bowl, with a fork or hand mixer, mix the cream cheese with sugar and vanilla until well blended. Fold in the Cool Whip until thoroughly mixed. Drop by tablespoons into the cupcake papers. It’s about two full tablespoons per cupcake/muffin. Freeze in the muffin pan. After frozen, you can store in plastic bags.

If you serve with peaches make a simple syrup and add 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract. Trust me. Do it.

Aunt Marion would be tickled to know I’m letting everyone in on this secret. Absolutely tickled

Her words not mine

Sutton’s

I had a charge account there

Back in the early 1990’s

Sutton’s Drug Store

159 East Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Since 1923

Back when I was in school at UNC, Sutton’s was still a full on old school small town drug store

Dr. Woodard, the pharmacist, dispensed prescriptions in the back and Don and crew ran what was a lunch counter serving burgers, fries, and various ades. My favorite was and still is the cherry limeade

Diabetes in styrofoam

A friend and I had weekly lunches there on Wednesdays

Jesse, our lovely waitress and doyenne of the greasy spoon, knew to look out for our table

One Wednesday, she actually made a couple get up from our regular table chastising them for intruding on our space

She literally asked the couple if they knew they were sitting in our booth

I can hear her now, “GET UP!” she admonished them

On another Wednesday, we watched wide-eyed as Jesse screamed across the store, “I’m gonna kill you!” as she picked up a pair of scissors and chased a shoplifter out of the store and down Franklin Street

“I’m gonna kill you!” remains one of my favorite moments in four years of lunches

My wife and children love the place

LOVE the place

Any time we are in Chapel Hill, we go to Sutton’s

It’s now a full fledged diner owed by the same Don who worked there when I was in school

It was with full fledged horror that we read this week they are really struggling to keep the lights on and the griddle greasy because of Covid, because of the University’s decision to send everyone packing, because of North Carolina’s phased re-openings

A couple of weeks ago, Don told us they never closed during the quarantine

Now things are catching up with them

So, what’s a Tar Heel with a former charge account to do?

Well, he gives to a Go Fund me or two

Link provided

In less than two days, fellow Tar Heels have given almost $30,000.00

Even this newly minted Tar Heel seen eating at Suttons a month ago

One day her pic might be on the wall

If Covid and draconian shut downs take out Sutton’s, well, let’s just say I’m going to grab a pair of scissors and run down some fools and scream, “I’m gonna kill you” due to my own frustration

I know that my thirty or so followers may want to contribute even though they’ve never sat in the yellow booths, never seen the myriad students’ pictures on the walls, never read The Daily Tar Heel, never charged anything to their parents

If you’re so inclined, please give

If you’re not, well, I’ll still raise my styrofoam of cherrylimeade to you

Wahhhfer Theen

One simple shot on the social media’s, and I’m being asked to publish Hamlin’s Southern Kitchen.

Well, kids, let’s just say this blog ain’t called, “Dad, what’s for supper?” for nothing

I have been known to crank out a cheese straw or ten thousand using my great grandmama’s receipt and an Italian cookie press much to the chagrin of my carpel tunnel.

Being invited over to a lady’s house for early drinks, I knew that I couldn’t show up empty handed. That’s just not nice manners. And, certainly, not very Southern

My mother never conquered her grandmama’s cheese straw receipt but it’s conquered me. It hurts to make them. So, what’s a nice Southern cook to do? Turn to a beloved alternative: Cheese Wafers with Pecans

My mama certainly did conquer Cheese Wafers with Pecans, which she often made for parties, teas, to serve before suppers with drinks. I have her version, which I think came from an older Beaufort cookbook. In her notes she wrote, “wrap log in wax paper and put in fridge overnight – makes slicing easy”. All will be explained below in a few seconds. Keep reading

These really are easy and good. This is my version of Cheese Wafers with Pecans adapted from my mother’s version. Remember, wrap in paper and put in fridge overnight. Makes slicing easy.

The pecan nuttiness comes out in the baking and merges perfectly with the fat from the butter and cheese and the salt and cayenne. Flour plays only a minimal supporting roll here.

Some versions say to make an egg wash for the pecans and wafers. That’s just crazy talk. Why mess with perfection?

And, the beautiful thing about these wafers, you most likely have almost all of the ingredients on hand at any given moment.

Ready for that moderate oven

Cheese Wafers with Pecans

4 oz. (half a block) of Cracker Barrel extra sharp cheese (makes 1 cup grated)

1 stick of butter – I use salted

1 cup of flour

1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper – more is more

1 tsp salt

A whole bag of pecan halves – you’ll need probably three dozen nut meats. And, yes, I just said “nut meats” because I’m secretly 115 years old

Place cheese, butter, flour, salt, cayenne into the bowl of a food processor and process until a dough ball forms. You’ll know when that happens.

Turn out the dough onto a cutting board, work surface, marble slab, impeccably clean counter tops and divide into two pieces

Roll both pieces into logs about 1 1/2 inches thick.

Wrap logs in wax paper or parchment paper and place in fridge for at least two hours or overnight. Don’t skip this step

Preheat oven to 350

Slice logs into 1/4 inch rounds and place on parchment lined baking sheet or sheets. I can do them on one but for your first tries use two baking sheets and cook two batches.

Place a pecan half on each wafer

Bake for 15 minutes or until crisp. Don’t over bake them as, to quote my late Great Aunt Marion from Savannah, overbaked and they’ll be bitter as gall

Let cool on a wire rack and put in a tin. They keep up to a week, but they won’t last that long

You can double, triple, quadruple this easily

No cookie press required

Serve with your favorite beverage

They go fast because, after all, Sir, they are wafer thin

Makers and Merchants

img_2984Brooks Brothers

Makers and Merchants

They used to be such a revelation

346 Madison Avenue, New York

46 Newbury Street, Boston

Lenox Square, Atlanta

The three locations at which I first came to know Brooks Brothers in the early 1980s

For 202 years until July 8, 2020

The majority of my wardrobe is from their shelves, ready to wear

So many ties to that storied store

So many ties

Literally

So many ties

Some of those ties are 30 years old e.g. the spouting whales and the bird dogs

Some are brand spanking new

I love them all

I may own other ties from Hermès, Ferragamo, other brands, but it is Brooks Brothers silk that takes up the majority of my tie rack

It is Brooks Brothers cotton that takes up the majority of my hanging shirts

It is Brooks Brothers twill that takes up the pants section of the chest of drawers

At the high school I attended, there were no Senior pictures in coats and ties. Instead, we submitted our own edgy looks

What was mine?

Me in a red and white striped Brooks Brothers turtle neck from the store on Newbury Street

I wore it all the time

So not edgy

The news of Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy stung

Where the hell did that come from?

Where the hell am I going to get my suits?

Where the hell am I going to get my non-iron dress shirts?

Where the hell am I going to get my all cotton boxers?

Where the hell am I going to get my bathrobes?

Where the hell am I going to get Black Watch plaids?

Where the hell am I going to get linen shirts for our hot summers?

Where the hell?

What the hell?

American Made by American Makes and Merchants still meant something to me

I wanted to shop there to support the makers in North Carolina and Massachusetts who were still spinning proverbial hay into sartorial gold

As I read on A Continuous Lean, the expansion for the sake of expansion may have led to the demise of this once great company

Here’s that piece: https://www.acontinuouslean.com/2020/07/08/what-is-the-measure-of-a-good-company/

Yes, it’s a de classe moment when one sees the place from whence most of one’s clothes come at every outlet, every major aiport, every city

Every

Where

Almost like seeing The Gap, Banana Republic, Foot Locker, Anthropologie, all the chains

All the chains

That’s not what we loyal Brooks Brothers customers wanted or needed

We were still willing to believe that Brooks Brothers could take the place of all our old local favorites like good old Jack Krawcheck’s here in Charleston

The local men’s stores that sold great clothes

We still have Grady Ervin on King Street

Thanks be to God

I was known to stop at the Brooks Brothers on King Street, Charleston, Main Street, Greenville, South Park, Charlotte, 346 Madison, New York, 1270 6th Ave, New York, and even the outlets in North Charleston and Bluffton

And so many other places that were good fits

And so many that weren’t

Now, they all may be gone

Anyone want to buy a two hundred year old brand?

Guess when Alden pulled their shoes from Brooks Brothers stores we should have known something was afoot

(Sorry, not sorry)

I weep for Garland, North Carolina, where Brooks Brothers shuttered its shirt factory in May

Their largest employer

As an honorary Tar Heel, I feel for my second favorite state in the Union

The Haverhill, Massachusetts, workers came to work yesterday only to find themselves barred from entry at the old Southwick factory

Death of a textile Titan

Damn Rona

Damn Casual Friday

No more broadcloth

No more wool

No more poplin

No more seersucker

No more linen

No more cotton

No more gabardine

All gone as of the morning of July 8, 2020

I’m super bummed

Wonder if I’ll have to pay my charge account balance?

Wonder if I’ll still redeem my points?

Wonder if I should change out of this LuluLemon?

 

 

In the course of human events

 

 

Happy Birthday US of A

Re-posting this tale of 4th of July’s past

In the words of Samuel Francis Smith, late of Andover, Mass, “Long may our land be bright/With with freedom’s holy light/Protect us by Thy might/Great God our King” 

 

July in South Carolina is hot. Miserably hot. It’s our hottest month.  Everyone thinks it’s August.  Historically, it is July.  It’s just that by August, everyone is over the summer and the heat. There are only so many times one can sweat through seersucker.

July also does not seem as hot as August due to the fact July comes in with a bang on July 4th.  Since forever, South Carolina has always ranked high among percentages of military service, percentages of enlistment, percentages of retired military living here.  We are damned patriotic despite that little period in the 19th Century when we rejected the Union.

A recent study found us to be the fourth (10th) most patriotic state in the Union.  Don’t take my word for it. Here’s that study https://wallethub.com/edu/most-patriotic-states/13680/

Growing up in Beaufort, South Carolina, a child is surrounded by the military.

They also serve who stand and wait who become Marines through osmosis.

We live in the shadow of Parris Island, where Marines are made.  We hear the roar of jets from the Marine Corps Air Station. “The noise you hear is the sound of freedom.”  We have our own Naval Hospital.  If a child grows up in Beaufort, chances are he knows someone in the military, she is friends with their children, he knows military retirees, or she is herself a military brat.  My friends in and I fell into one or more of those categories.

One of my best friends lived next door to retired Marine Corps General Edwin Pollock.  My friend used to knock on the General’s door and ask his wife, Miss Essie, if the General could come out and play.  The General often would.

In addition to General Pollack, we grew up with General OF Peatross and General Bud Masters.  We grew up around countless Colonels, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Master Sergeants, Gunnies, Warrant Officers, Drill Sergeants.  These men helped win the Second World War.  To us, they were just nice older men who always spoke to us and our parents. We had no idea of their badassery until we grew older and read about their exploits on Guadalcanal, on Mankin Island, on Iwo Jima, at the Battle of the Bulge.  My across the street neighbor, Dr. Aimar, a Beaufort boy, had also served on Iwo Jima and was proud of his service, as well he should have been.

Our fathers’ generation had been in Vietnam.  My dad served there. My best friends’ fathers had served there.  Our pal Charles Chitty had been in Naval Intelligence during Vietnam and served as Admiral McCain’s aide while his wife, our beloved Penny, played bridge with Mrs. McCain all while their son was in the Hanoi Hilton.

It was the exception, not the rule, for us to not know someone whose dad had been in the service.

Some of my parents’ oldest friends to this day were Marine Corps friends.  Some of the people I miss the absolute most are some of those Marine Corps friends that are no longer with us.

That is not to say that jingoistic patriotic slogans dripped from our lips.  That is not to say we all agreed with the actions of whatever administration was in office. It is to say that Beaufort folks thanked veterans for their service way before beer commercials made it popular.

Often, the Parris Island band would play in local parades and in concerts around town.  When the band began “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli….”  all assembled stood and began to sing with nary a dry eye.  Because, as General Louis H. Wilson stated in his famous toast

… the greatest of loves, the quintessence of loves

Even greater than that of a mother,

Is the tender, passionate, infinite love,

of one drunken Marine for another.

Semper Fidelis.

We Marine Corps children often looked forward to pieces of sheet cake purloined from the Marine Corps Ball in November.  We laughed at stories of how Ms. Hickman, a teacher at our school, and a Navy doctor’s wife went up to a man she thought was another friend’s father and pinched his bottom saying, “What you doing later Marine? Wanna get out of here?”  The man in dress blues turned and said, “I beg your pardon, Madame.”  Mrs. Hickman’s reply, “Well, General, what ARE you doing later?”  It was the Commandant of the Marine Corps in town for the Ball.

We heard about how hot the Lyceum was.  How there was no food.  How the flowers were tacky.  How the toasts went on forever.  How my mother and her friends were never going back.

What does this have to do with America’s birthday? It’s backdrop and setting.

We were birthed and reared in a deeply patriotic town.  We had great patriotism and great fun on a regular basis in those decades where the threat of nuclear war still loomed large, the Russians could be coming up the river any minute, the Israelis raided Entebbe on our country’s birthday, and where that weak ass sumbitch Carter couldn’t free our hostages.

We were beyond supportive of Independence Day.  Girls dressed as Betsy Ross. Boys donned tricorners. We festooned our bikes with red white and blue crepe paper.  We stock piled sparklers, Roman candles, cherry bombs, bottle rockets.  The Bicentennial cast a large shadow for years and years.

Our 4ths always dawned hot. Super hot.  (Firecracker hot?)

Our family’s 4ths had the same rhythm for a decade or so.

After a lazy breakfast, we crossed the street for our first party which began mid-morning.  The Aimars, this being the same Aimars of whom Dr. Aimar who had served as a Marine on Iwo Jima, hosted an annual mid-morning/mid-day party.  That party consisted of the Aimar and Sams families and their extended kinfolk, us included, with residents of our neighborhood, The Point, and members of the First Presbyterian Church, the Aimars’ church.  We always thought it was sort of a church picnic for the Presbyterians. The beer coolers were kept discreetly tucked away at that event.

At the Aimars, there was lots of swimming in their pool by us children. The only sunscreen applied was a little zinc oxide on already blistering noses.   There was plenty of cigarette smoke and Skin So Soft  to keep the mosquitoes away.

The Reverend Frank Sells of the same First Presbyterian Church blessed the food every year.   We were in and out of the Aimars every year as soon as we had eaten lunch.  Every year at the Aimars my mother warned us, “Boys, don’t eat Miz Webster’s potato salad. It’s been in the heat for two hours and she uses mayonnaise. You’ll get sick.”

Every year we had a better deal waiting for us.

At the Aimars, there weren’t a lot of young people our age.

That would all change at the better deal a quick five minute drive away.

As soon as we had eaten lunch, our parents would load us, dripping wet and often shirtless, our festooned bikes, a couple of Igloo coolers, and platters with whatever contribution my mother was making to the second feast of the day into our car to head over to another neighborhood, Spanish Point, for the party and picnic hosted by the Patricks, the Lawrences, and the Clarkes.

That was the main attraction. That was where all our friends were waiting. It was a free for all: a patriotic pow wow.

Ladies would put their dishes in the kitchen,.  Every year Rosemary Morton brought her dish under protest.  “I don’t know why I do this. Y’all know I think it’s tacky to take dishes to parties.”

General Masters would always dress up like Uncle Sam. I don’t see how he didn’t collapse in the heat.  Full costume with beard. He was James Montgomery Flagg’s poster come to life. “I want you,” he would point at us as we ran around the Patricks’ yard.

General Pollock would throw footballs with us and remind us that the Citadel was the greatest college on the face of the planet. “Boys, go to the Citadel. ”  He was a graduate of the class of 1918. Yet there he was throwing footballs with us in the late 70’s.

Our parents would take us around to speak to various older folks sitting in the shade of oak trees hoping for a good breeze to come up the river once the tide turned.

Making the rounds speaking to the older folks, every year we had to go and say hello to Mrs. Harvey.  Mrs. Harvey insisted on a kiss, too.  Mrs. Harvey’s hair had been dyed a color not occurring in nature.

Her husband was our state senator.  Her son would later be our state senator.  They were and are lovely people, but I still don’t see why we always had to go kiss Mrs. Harvey as she held court sitting in her green and white nylon strapped aluminum picnic chair.

The men who hosted would have a huge set of grills set up with chicken quarters cooking over coals.  They would cook the chicken low and slow and add a secret barbecue sauce just before serving.

One year, William Devaux came up to the men and spat on a piece of chicken. Hocked a loogie.  He said, “Well, guess that one’s mine, fellas.”  Little did he know that all the assembled cooks also spat on the same piece of chicken.   Turns out the cooks told every man at the party about Mr. Deveaux’s obnoxious act.  Every man there and some of the older boys hocked loogie after loogie on Mr. Devaux’s chicken quarter. He was overheard extolling the yard bird, “Best chicken, ever.  Man, I mean ever. Best that John, Alec, and Thomas have ever cooked.”

On a back portion of the Patricks’ sprawling property, there was a race course set up every year for the annual games portion of the picnic. There were croaker (pronounced croke-ah) sack races, egg tosses, spoon races, water balloon tosses, three legged races.  My parents, my brothers, and I never won.

I complained one year at our breakfast table. “Why do the Bennetts always win?”  My dad’s reply, “Because they’re goddamned cheaters.”  My mother, “Language, please.”  My father was right. They were goddamned cheaters.

Another year, Mary Lee, Anne, and Bonnie were locked in a bathroom by our pal Gracie.  Gracie stood guard outside the bathroom, letting no one in or out.  My father went to use the bathroom and said, “Gracie, what you doing?”  Her reply, “Nothing, George O’Kelley. Nothing.”  Gracie has always called my father by his first and last names.  Hearing the conversation, tremulous voices called out from the bathroom, “Mr. George, is that you? Help! Gracie won’t let us out.” “Let them out, Gracie, dahlin.  Let them out.”  Out came the girls hugging my father as their rescuer.  Anne still credits him for saving them that day.

Gracie was also hell on the see saw.  There were four see saws up by the back deck.  God help the child who see sawed with Gracie.  Charlie Brown still lets Lucy hold the ball expecting a different outcome.  We see sawed with Gracie expecting a different outcome.  It never happened.

While her victim was at the apex of the see saw, Gracie would get a glint in her eye, which meant her victim knew she was about to hop off the see saw sending her partner earthward at 9.8 meters per second squared.

The victim’s refrain, “No Gracie. No Gracie. No Gracie. No Gracie” repeated as fast as young voices could say it is still well known by a certain population from Beaufort.  The begging never helped.  Gracie, at the bottom of the see saw would roll off onto the ground and laugh a deep belly laugh as her victim crashed to the ground spanking his or her bottom on the hard wood and soil compacted by years of see saw use.  At least ten children every July 4th would be seen running through the assembled throng holding onto their bottoms looking for their mamas and saying “Gracie did it, again.”  Often the reply from the mamas, “Well, you know she’s going to do it. Don’t see saw with her.”

“No Gracie. No Gracie. No Gracie. No Gracie.”

Every year, the local fire department sent a bunting clad fire truck for younger children to ride on during the 4th of July parade around Spanish Point.  Parents rode with them, drinks in hand.  Older children rode bikes under their own steam.  Often children with training wheels on their bikes brought up the rear of the parade. Dads followed and pushed these younger bikers while holding Budweisers in old Styrofoam koozies in one hand, the back of the bikes in the other sweat dripping down their noses as their children screamed out, “Isn’t this great?”

I can’t remember to whom we waved on those parades as the entire Spanish Point neighborhood was at the party.

Saw horses and plywood serving tables would be set up in the yard under the same oak trees where the older folks hid from the sun.  No potato salad from Miz Webster at this party.  After a day of grilling chicken, everyone would eat around 4 or 5 o’clock.  Chicken, tons of sliced tomatoes, marinated cucumbers and onions, three bean salads, grilled corn on the cob, deviled eggs and slaw kept in coolers until right before serving, tons of baked beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, tons of freezer pops, cakes, pies, popsicles.

By 6 or 7 o’clock most of the children were beyond wiped out. Delirious. Absolutely gobsmacked tired.  Tears.  Crankiness.  Fighting friends and siblings. Screaming at their parents, “I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME!”  Feet in Saltwater sandals stomping the ground.  Little ones passed out in strollers.

Most of our parents were wiped out by then, too, aided by the beer and liquor and whatever else was in their Igloo coolers.

Our parents would gather their monkey pod serving bowls, their Tupperware containers, their deviled egg platters, their children and their bikes and throw them all into the back of the cars for the rides home.  One year my youngest brother fell asleep on the ride home during that five minute journey.

We would all go home and be thrown into tubs and showers only to fall asleep as soon as our sunburned heads hit our pillows. Our parents would sit in air conditioned dens  with glazed looks in their eyes asking each other if the other wanted another drink.

My parents tell me that those 4ths of July were the most exhausting days of their being parents.  They say that it was all too much work and too hot.  I think they are exaggerating.

The main event party fizzled out after the Patrick family sold their property in Spanish Point. I never had as much fun on the 4th of July ever again.  Ever. Well, at least not until I had children and could experience the holiday with them and through them.

Other friends took up the mantle of hosting 4th of July parties and moved the picnics to their houses with docks or pools.

Other friends went to the beach.

Other friends went to the mountains.

The image of those days that comes to mind is from a picture my father took of the pack of assembled children right before we ate one year.  It think it’s 1978 or 1979.   On the back of the picture is written in my mother’s handwriting “4th, Patricks Party”.  That’s all it says.  That’s all it needs to say.

There are a myriad of sweating pig tailed girls and grimy red faced boys, almost all barefooted, wearing our camping shorts, our matching Lacoste sets, t-shirts and cut off jeans, halter tops, Little House inspired tops with calico, sun bonnets, baseball hats, straw hats, bucket hats with little ones in their smocked John John suits and breezy sun dresses.

We are all assembled by the back deck to listen to the older folks sing The Star Spangled Banner and to listen to William Clarke give one of his famously rambling patriotic prayers before we ate.

We are all staring in the same direction at the deck.

Sweat pouring down some faces.  White blonde hair plastered to foreheads.  Long dark braids flowing from under a red bandana.

Some of us have our arms around each other.  Others have their arms crossed.  Others have their arms akimbo. A few have their right hands over their hearts. Most do not. A couple of boys are attempting a salute.

One of the older teenagers with a cigarette hanging from his lips makes no attempt to sing or bow his head in prayer. He has his arm on a girl’s shoulder.

Some of those children ended up marrying each other.

Some have died.

Some have long since moved away from the Lowcountry.

Some have never left Beaufort. Now, they range in age from their late 30’s to early 50’s.

In the course of human events, indeed.

Although I miss almost everything about those Independence Days, I don’t miss having to kiss Mrs. Harvey.

The R Word

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Flattening the Curve, Hamlin O’Kelley, Ink on Paper, March 20, 2020

 

Resilience

I hate that word

Totally

“The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”

From the Latin meaning to leap back, recoil, rebound, jump, leap

Trite

Overused

Not a comfort during this pandemic

No, we parents aren’t resilient

No, our students aren’t resilient

We are coping

We are dealing

We are putting up with all the stuff

All the fake graduations

All the drive by birthdays, parades, moments

All the videos for birthdays instead of hugs and kisses

All the cancellations

All the postponements

All the disappointments

All the “you got this” crap

And, it’s total crap

In physics, resilience means the capacity of a body to recover its size and shape after compressive stresses

I have not sprung back

It’s gonna be a minute

It’s gonna be years, really

Grief is tough

How about, “I’m sorry”?

How about, “Well, this stinks”?

I would rather have the full grief acknowledged instead of the patronizing back handed compliment of

….. these young people are SO resilient

….. this class is SO resilient

…… these children are SO resilient

…… they’ll make up for it later

…… they have such brighter days ahead

Those are lies

By being told they are resilient, their voices are silenced

They are not allowed to process their emotions if they are resilient because they have already bounced back….see…aren’t we amazing people?

When people die, I write their loved one notes

Immediately

It’s all I know to do

In those notes, I often quote the shortest verse of the Bible

“Jesus wept.”  John 11:35

Full humanity

Full loss

Weeping for the full pain of his friends Mary and Martha at the loss of their brother and his friend Lazarus

My Lord and Savior did not say

“Better days ahead”

“This too shall pass”

“We’re all in this together”

“Stay safe”

“You got this”

No, Jesus wept

He wept because they wept

He wept for their lack of faith, too

He wept for his own suffering, too

He didn’t tell Mary and Martha that they were resilient and would get over Lazarus dying

No, he wept with them and for them and knowing what faces us all….suffering, grief, pain

The Swedes get it with their proverb, “Shared joy is double joy. Shared sorrow is half sorrow”

Don’t tell me I’m resilient

Don’t tell our children they’re resilient

We’re all in mourning

Let us mourn

If I never hear the word resilient again, it will be o.k.

 

 

 

 

Blues for Reunion

Five years ago, I composed The Andover Blues in honor of our wonderful 25th Reunion

This year, I am offering up Blues for Reunion since the Class of 1990 will not be together for a marvelous weekend in a certain small town in Massachusetts 

I can’t think of a time where we need my alma mater’s motto more

Non sibi 

Not for self

Paul Revere, that midnight rider and silversmith, carved Non Sibi into a shining sun over a beehive representing hard work and industry on the school’s seal

I would show y’all the seal, but the Office of Communications has not given me permission. I don’t want to be a bad alumnus

I wrote these words not for myself, but for my beloved classmates

Since 1778 the place has been educating youth from every quarter, of which I am honored and privileged to be called one

 

 

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Armillary Sphere. Paul Manship. 1928. Gift of Thomas Cochran. Commonly called The Egg Beater. On the Great Lawn. Phillips Academy. Andover, Massachusetts

 

Blues for Reunion

(To mark our postponed 30th) 

 

We won’t be together on Andover Hill

Sister Rona forcing a very hard pill

To swallow and bear without each other

No hugging and kissing, Dear Sister, Dear Brother

For that’s what we are, a family in spirit

Go Blue! Beat Red! (Can’t we all hear it?)

No major gift to rival our last

Eight million dollars, which we all amassed

No midnight treks across the Great Lawn

Showing up young alums until the bright dawn

No Harrison’s run for a lahge mayo sos

No march to the Chapel to meet the new boss

No 80s Cover Band where we could boogie

No worm from Jared Jackson, The Doogie

No jamming and laughing in West Quad North

To be our HQ where’d we go back and forth

All over our beloved physical plant

Now because of Rona we can’t

Be with each other, those whom we love

Even those with whom we don’t fit like a glove

Bungs, heinous beavers, nerds, and cool kids

Even missing those who aren’t on the grids

Of coming to campus to fill hallowed spaces

We have the best class full of such graces

Ninety-one gird your loins; our class will bring it

Shit will be epic; totally lit

But on the 12th, I’ll miss y’all more than you know

You darling people……I love you so

 

Hamlin O’Kelley, PA ’90

Nature’s First Green

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In the Seventh Grade, we were made to memorize a poem in our English class taught by Tom Horton.

We could pick one of three works by Robert Frost. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, “The Road Not Taken”, or “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Most chose “Nothing Gold Can Stay” due to its brevity blithely ignorant of its themes of mortality and the early twentieth century update of that ancient of admonitions

Carpe diem

All thirty of us in Mr. Horton’s class stood in front of our classmates and recited from memory over the course of two days

I actually chose “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as its meter and rhyme were the easiest to commit to memory

Having heard it so many times over two classes, though, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” remains with me some thirty five years later.

It has really remained with me these last two months of quarantine and Rona, bad news on all fronts

From March through May, my beloved Lowcountry has flowered in profusion due to a surfeit of rain followed by weeks of sun

The last of the pink perfection camellias were insanely gorgeous

True perfection

Mathematical in form

 

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Our only native hydrangea, the oak leaf, has blossomed like never before

It has grown tall enough to reach our kitchen windows

It has gone from early green buds to white flowers which will then go pink which will eventually fade to brown during the summer heat

 

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We have been blessed with the most abundant Confederate jasmine blooms in recent memory

It’s my favorite scent of all time

Ever

Of

All

Time

#iykyk as the kids say these days

 

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The wisteria’s mild clean odor wafts through the woodlands and through thickets and borders near our house

We had one growing up in Beaufort

One of my great grandmothers was a serious gardener

She spotted the wisteria in our yard, looked at my father, and remarked, “George, you have a wisteria…mmmm…that’s a mistake”

I never thought it was

That smell reminds me of playing in our yard

Proust had his madeleines

I have my wisteria and Confederate jasmine

From all that woozy goodness, the magnolias have opened to amazing early blooms perfuming all the air around them while continuing to be the messiest trees God ever created

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The antiseptic astringency of the ligustrum mixes in nicely

The sultry intoxication of gardenias, named for a South Carolinian, layer on top of all of that

It’s too much sitting outside or walking around Charleston or strolling through Hampton Park where all of these scents mingle

Our foxgloves bloomed early

In our hot summers, they count as early spring annuals as they literally melt in the hot suns of June, July, and August

Sometimes they are biennials if they get a little shade

Mine generally melt

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The one hundred White Christmas caladium bulbs I planted are busting through the soil

The Kentucky Colonel mint and chocolate mint are spreading

In spite of all the gloom and bad news, we have never had a more glorious spring

Never

The hydrangeas are budding in profusion, too

The aluminum sulfate that I spread a couple weeks ago is working its acidifying magic on the blooms creating deep blues and purples

The Southern shield ferns have never been bigger unfurling their fiddle heads to fronds all from volunteer spores spread by the wind

 

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The annual pentas  in pinks, whites, lavenders fill beds and pots with Persian shield and gomphrena along with the purple fuzzy Wandering Jew rooted from my in-laws

As I stand in our garden watering, I am overwhelmed by it all

It’s too much

I know it cannot remain

It is destined to succumb eventually

Nothing gold can stay

And, so I give you Mr. Frost’s ode to spring, youth, beauty, Original Sin, death, and life, which I memorized some thirty five years ago and recite to myself every spring with all credit given to that flinty New England sage

 

 

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost

 

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Suffice It

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“Some say in ice”  Robert Frost 

“Do we have enough ice?”

That is the question I have been asking over the past two months

Is our ice maker producing enough?

Do we need to make more?

I can bag some

Will we have enough for tonight?

Did you move some out of the way so it makes more?

Will there be enough for the cocktails?

Will there be enough for the Hydroflask refill?

Fixated on it

Like bird-dogging it

One thing I can sort of control

During these grief stricken days

During the paralyzing paroxysms

“Do we have enough ice?”

So stupid, too

While my fellow countrymen are in lines at food banks

While my fellow countrymen are applying for and failing to collect unemployment

While my fellow countrymen espouse conspiracy theories out of desperation to make sense of out of the desperate

While my fellow countrymen cling to memories of a world that made some sense three months ago

While my fellow countrymen rebel against authority and control

While my fellow countrymen do their parts to aid each other

While my fellow countrymen are stuck in quarantines

While my fellow countrymen’s hair wants cutting

While my fellow countrymen wonder from whence cometh their next meal

I stupidly ask that question

“Do we have enough ice? ”

While our collective house is on fire

Fire and Ice

As Mr. Frost once wrote

“….that for destruction ice/Is also great/And would suffice”

Do we have enough ice?

The three ladies with whom I live roll their eyes at me

“Stop, Dad”

“Yes, we do”

“What’s with you and the ice?”

It’s all I can ask

When I hear the familiar hiss of water into the molds in the ice maker, I smile

When I hear the crashing clank of ice landing on ice, I smile

The louder the noise, the less ice we have

I don’t care if it’s clear

I don’t care if it’s cloudy

Do we have enough ice?

Yes

We do

Hope you do, too