Better Than Grits on the Table

Those of us of a certain age will remember James Oldsmobile, late of Charleston. Hell, those of us of a certain age remember Oldsmobiles. James Olds had a very specific and memorable television ad where their Olds were advertised for $8,888. In a good old Charleston accent that was pronounced ate-e-ate-ate-e-ate.

At the end of the ad, old Mr. James said, “That’s bettah than grits on the tay-bull”

He was wrong then and now

There’s nothing better than grits on the table

Or is it hominy when it’s on the table?

In this part of the world hominy means cooked grits, not the hominy that has to be soaked in lye or whatever they do out west or south of the border

Venerable Charleston Receipts tells us that grits are the raw product, hominy on the table

Either way, there is nothing better than grits on the table

For a recent gathering, I made the following baked grits

Charleston Receipts has a version called an “Awendaw” or a “Hominy Surprise”

My mother added a contribution for a grits casserole to Sea Island Seasons published by the Beaufort County Open Land Trust

There are many versions for Cheese Grits Souffle’, too

All are good

But I think this Cheesy Grits Casserole is damned fine

Especially if you use our pals’ stone ground grits. Milled from the same family mill for generations. Thanks Anne Marie and Jimmy Hagood!

Charleston Favorites Stone Ground Grits. White Grits. Gluten Free for anyone with a gluten issue

This works well when there’s a crowd to feed and can be made a day ahead then baked the next morning. If making the day ahead, pour into casserole dish and let cool on counter before covering with plastic wrap and putting in the fridge overnight

I adapted this from a receipt Billy Reid, he of the fashion world fame, submitted to a food magazine

The last time I made it, I made it a day ahead

Those who were partakers asked for the receipt

Here it is

And, there is nothing better than grits on the table

Cheesy Grits Casserole

8 cups water

2 cups stone ground grits

Salt and white pepper

1 stick butter, cut into 8 tsps

1/2 lb. (8 oz) extra sharp white cheddar cheese (yellow is fine, too), grated by hand. Do NOT use pre-grated cheese. It’s covered in starches to keep it from caking and it doesn’t melt well

3 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter well a 13×9 baking dish. Bring water to full boil and stir in grits. Turn down heat to low to medium low and cook grits over for 30 minutes stirring to prevent lumping and sticking. After 30 mins add salt and white pepper to taste. Stir and cook 10 more minutes. You may need to add a cup of water or so if the grits are too lumpy.

Take off the heat and add butter and mix well, then cheese and mix well then, finally, eggs and mix well. The residual heat from the grits will cause the eggs to set up but not cook

Pour into baking dish and bake at 350 for 1 hour until top is starting to brown a little

Let stand 15 minutes before serving

You can serve another Bloody Mary, fill water glasses, gather the plates, pour another cup of coffee, and say the blessing while it cools

Really a guest friendly dish

All for less than $8,888

But it’ll be one of the best things you ate-e-ate.

Beefed N Bottled

As soon the football powers that be announced the most Southern football game ever, we bought tickets

North Carolina v. South Carolina in the Dukes Mayonnaise Bowl. In Charlotte, NC, a city which anyone in the Carolinas could reach within half a day. I’m sure Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Electress of Hanover, Queen of Hanover, would have approved of the selection of her namesake city/stadt being the site of such an event

We immediately contacted our pals the Pooles and asked if they were going to be in town on December 29.

Immediate reply from Mrs. Poole, “Come on!”

A day later, another reply, “I’m making a reservation for us at Beef & Bottle…have y’all been?”

My response, “No, ma’am. Let’s [..] go!” I added an inappropriate word in the ellipsis

We checked the website

Beef ‘ n Bottle Steakhouse…since 1958

Sign of same vintage

Hell yes

“We have a reservation for 5:30. They are slammed. Does that work?”

“I love early birds”

So we were confirmed for December 29 at 5:30

On the 29th, we drove up to Charlotte and ran errands and went to an exhibit at the Mint Museum a block away from our hotel

Y’all should go see the John Leslie Breck Exhibit. He introduced Impressionism to we people.

Laura and Perry Poole introduced Beef ‘ n Bottle to we people

As we walked around Uptown, we saw lots of Tar Heels and Gamecocks

By 4:30, we were back in the hotel room to brush teeth, splash water on faces, put on supper suits and summon an Uber

5 p.m. traffic in the Queen’s City and all

So, I hit Uber and received message after message that I had invalid payment, no account, not able to process

Meanwhile, our elder daughter whose Uber account is linked to my payment methods summoned us a ride in a nanosecond

Rodrigo will be meeting you in 3 minutes

That was fast

So, we four piled into Rodrigo’s Navigator

WDAV classical musical station from Davidson, NC, played adagios, arpeggios, arias

Rodrigo played his brakes like an organist in a church with those slippery soled shoes. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Slide. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Slide

We all felt sick by the time we arrived at Beef ‘ n Bottle on South Boulevard

My phone rang right before we arrived

“Make sure they seat us in the front room”

No hello. No hey. No how are you.

Which, is what you do with ancient friends

We darkened the door into a one-story, darkened, red-hued room

A man in mask moved about asked us about the reservation

“Poole, party of 7”

“Gimme a second,” said the gentleman

“Front room, please”

His reply, “Of course”

We were ushered to an eight top set for seven in the middle of the front room. An island surrounded by booths with dark red everything. I was in heaven

“I’m DJ, and I’ll be taking care of you,” said our waiter who appeared seconds after we sat down as he deposited three pewter sorbet cups filled with a scoop of cheddar cheese spread and baskets of captain’s wafers, saltines, and Melba toasts to start the meal

“Drinks?” He asked

The Pooles had not yet arrived, but, hell, the second half of this place was called “bottle”

Mary Perrin ordered a signature cocktail from off their laminated menu. “A Paloma, please”

I ordered a Manhattan. Seemed appropriate

Drinks for the girls

A few minutes later, drinks arrived. MP’s in a tall literal high ball. Mine in a martini glass. Bright red maraschino cherry glowing in the bowl. Shards of ice across the top. The perfect balance to the room temp cheese spread

“Where are the Pooles?”

“They are coming”

“We have a two hour limit!” On the door was the admonition that parties of 4 or more had a two hour table limit. I said that I didn’t think they’d kicked us out

“It’s 5:40. I think we’re o.k.”

Two minutes later, in came Laura and Perry Poole

Hugs all around

“So glad to see y’all”

“Where we sitting?”

“Here, here, and here”

“Hey girls”

“Hey”

“I need a drink. Almost came to blows earlier with our child”
“Oh, don’t worry. We have been cussing at each other all afternoon”

There is such joy in being with friends with whom there can be utter honesty. Hope y’all have a few or a dozen or that every friend you have is such a pal

“So, what do y’all think?”

“Well, the communal sink for the bathroom is amazing. And, this feels like I’m still in the 1950s”

“Just wait”

So we ordered more drinks and laughed and talked and caught up and pondered the menu

The Pooles’ daughter arrived under her own steam

D J returned, “So, any thoughts?”

“We want the shrimp cocktail. Let’s get the 20 piece”

“May we split the escargot?” The college sophomore and the high school junior inquired

“Of course,” all four parents replied

“I’m sorry. We don’t have escargot,” said DJ. Thanks, Bestie. Or, no thanks, Bestie

“Get the frog legs!” I exclaimed. I had frog legs once. In 1979. So that makes me an expert

“Oh, gosh, no”

“Hold on,” said DJ

A minute later he was back at the table announcing that the snails could be placed in their garlic butter sauce and brought piping hot to the table

“So, escargot and shrimp cocktail. Any other drinks?”

Hands raised all round

Bracing martinis

Warming manhattans

Perfect Palomas

“Do we order?”

“Not yet”

So we laughed more and thought about wines to pair with the steaks

DJ appeared with an enormous plateau with a bowl encircled by twenty beautiful shrimp and a bowl of sinus clearing horseradish filled cocktail sauce

Being a kid from Beaufort, SC, I know good shrimp. These were good shrimp. No slime or film. Not rubbery. Perfectly boiled and chilled. Not farm raised. So great

The cocktail sauce, everything. I learned at a young age to put cocktail sauce on a cracker. The crackers and Melba toasts left over from the cheese spread proved a great vehicle to get more ketchup and horseradish down my gullet

It was time to order form the menu of steaks of perfect cut. Each accompanied by a salad and a side. Each of which were perfected in 1958. Salads were individual plates of iceberg lettuce with a passed relish tray with cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, black and green olives, and slices of green pepper. Dressings passed in pewter bowls. Blue cheese, please and thanks

Orders placed for filets, New York strips, trio of medallions of filet with different seasonings. Baked potatoes all round, excepting one mashed, served with their own relish tray of sour cream, chives, cheddar cheese, and butter. Lots of butter.

By the time the steaks came conversations which I cannot repeat were in full hilarity. Were I to repeat said conversations, names would have to be changed to protect the guilty

I can tell you the following:

1. Ted Manson was not the name of that dude who was imprisoned for Sharon Tate’s murder

2. Chattanooga is not in Kentucky, and it is not close to Illinois

3. The only phrases an American needs in Italy are “Basta!” and “Do you EVEN speak English?”

As we downed the first bottle of wine, the steaks arrived on those wonderful, old steak house serving pieces. Haven’t seen them in years. Those hard rubber dishes with pewter inserts. Like the Sizzlers of old. But so much better

By the time the steaks arrived, all crowned with a perfectly fried onion ring, it was time for the second bottle of wine

We didn’t need it

But it was worth it

By the time the steaks and potatoes were finished, all of the worlds problems had been solved. Really. You know those meals. The best!

Mindful of our time limit, I asked if we had to go

DJ said we were fine

Whew

Didn’t want to get tossed on my first visit

According to one Charlotte local, more deals have been done in the front room of Beef ‘ n Bottle than have even been contemplated in the high rises Uptown

Makes sense

As we were approaching an almost three hour table sit, we all decided to pull the plug

No room for dessert

Next trip

Our elder daughter pressed the Uber app and Lucretia was only two minutes away

Only time for a quick walk outside and a group pic. Only three posed for the pic

Lucretia said she would take a pic of the whole group, but, well, it’s hard herding well sated cats

Hugs and kisses all round and everyone was off

Lucretia told us that she had never been to Beef ‘ n Bottle. We told her she should go! As we passed Hooters near our hotel Uptown, Lucretia did tell us that it had bad wings but really good oysters. Next trip, I guess

But, really, if you’re ever in the Queen’s City, make a reservation at the Beef ‘ n Bottle

Seriously.

Where the hell have I been?

Chattanooga, Kentucky?

All for $5.99

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Bag from the Teetah

That final shopping trip to the grocery store before Christmas. It happened today for me. Around noon, I went to the Harris Teeter on East Bay Street. It’s my store of choice

After gathering all but one item on my list – supply chain and all – I stood in line to check out. With a real person. I loathe self-checkout

In front of me were three women chatting in Spanish. They wore painters’ clothes and had splatters of paint on their pants. Each of them held a lunch of some kind. One held a package containing half of a chocolate cake coated with a chocolate buttercream frosting and Christmas colored sprinkles

As they began to pay, the woman holding the cake held up her phone and pointed to it. The woman behind the cash register said, “Oh, we don’t do that kind of payment. It’s cash or card or check.”

The woman holding cake looked at her and motioned for her to refund the cake.

Without any hesitation, I looked at the young woman and said, “Ma’am, I’ll pay for the cake”

$5.99

The three painters each thanked me in Spanish and English. Two of the three wished me Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas. The one who originally held the cake looked me dead in the eye, patted my shoulder, and said, “God love you”

They all thanked me again and left the store.

The cashier said, “Thank you, Sir. That’s very kind”

She then began to speak quietly into her communication device hanging just below her neck while I was bagging my groceries

The next thing I knew, the manager of the grocery store was at the young woman’s side.

The manager looked at me and said, “Sir, what you did was lovely. Your groceries are on the Harris Teeter today.”

I protested

“But, these are going to cost way more than $5.99!”

Her reply, “Not today, Sir”

At least I waited for the automatic doors to close behind me before I burst into tears

Merry Christmas

Lessons and Carols with Matt

What an honor to have been asked to read at St. Philip’s service of Lessons and Carols.

Fear not….I think it’s the most repeated phrase in the Good Book

Matthew 1:18-23 in which St. Matthew tells of the birth of Jesus.

The famous scripture where Joseph determined to put away his espoused Mary privily, as the King James Version tells us. Then, the Angel comes to him in a dream, and, behold, he knows the child is of the Holy Ghost, and He shall save us from our sins.

Recovering from a cold, and, yes, it’s just a cold, my voice had the timbre of a croaking frog

Remember when Peter Brady’s voice changed? That was similar to my delivery when the appointed Sixth Lesson time approached.

After the choir finished Ave Maria as put to music by Philip Stopford, I made my way to the lectern

The lectern is in the shape of an eagle, symbol of St. John. Makes sense. “In the beginning was the Word…”

I started with “St. Matthew tells the birth of Jesus”

I ended with “…and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted is, God with us.”

A brief pause and then, “The Word of the Lord”

I walked back to our pew and enjoyed the rest of the service.

My wife, girls, and I were honored and privileged to share the pew with our friend Palmer Gaillard, who is a genuinely funny man. At least I think he is. Quick witted.

At the end of church, after the last “Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”, we chit chatted on our way out of the church.

Palmer looked me dead in the eye and said, “Hamlin, you read that precisely the way I wrote it.”

I replied, “Thanks, St. Matthew”

Not missing a beat, Palmer said, “Matt. My friends call me Matt.”

I’m still laughing

O come, O come Emmanuel

Don’t Ask Me

“Can you give me some ideas for the girls?”

“What can we give to MP?”

“Tell me something to give Hamlin”

“I am at a loss as to what to give the nieces”

“What do you think they want from us?”

“I can’t think of a thing to give, y’all. Guess I’ll just write a check”

Y’all

Come on

December 25th is not an emergency. I will repeat. December 25h is not an emergency

The Feast of the Nativity occurs every year at the exact same day since Pope Julius I fixed the date sometime in the mid fourth century. Every year. December 25th. Since the mid-300’s

The height of annoyance during the fall, late fall, Advent remains questions from family about gifts

People think they are being considerate

They think it’s helpful

It’s not

It’s rude as hell

My telling you to give x or y or z to my family removes that x or y or z for me to give to my family or for my family to give to me. Please don’t ask me

Your houses are FULL of things, by the way, dear family and friends. Feel free to give something in a cabinet, hutch, chest that you no longer use or need or love. And old something you no longer want with a note would be more wonderful than a sweatshirt from the SXC store on King Street

Feel free to help with tuition

Feel free to help with tennis lessons

Feel free to help with to help with hosting Christmas meals or something. Stouffer’s lasagne even!

Feel free to help with camp

Feel free to help with spring break

Feel free to help with car repairs

Feel free to divest your self of the hoarded cabinets and chests of drawers and china cabinets and all the things

And, why, oh, why is this about the giver?

It is more blessed to give than receive, yet the givers in these situations want all the blessings, attention, gratefulness

Acts 20:35 tells us that Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive

I am going to need to pray to Our Lord and Savior that he give me peace and quiet during this Advent season to get over this annoyance and disquiet

And, I know this sounds deeply spoiled and whiny. Deeply spoiled. Deeply whiny

I am beyond grateful for my family and friends and friends who are family. That they would even think about giving something to me and mine still brings tears to my eyes that anyone would be so considerate and obliging

That being said, I must quote Ellen Griswold who once answered her daughter’s question about the pleasures of the season by saying, “I don’t know what to say, except, it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery”

Give what YOU want to give

Don’t ask me

You’re an adult

You’ve made it this far

You’re just copping out at this point

Don’ give anything

Christmas is not about the gifts

Christmas is not about stuff

Our folks would rather spend time with you then have you spend time figuring out what to put under the tree

Pleas don’t ask me

Because I won’t tell

In the Aah Aah

Back in May, I took I picture in a bathroom at the first event I had attended since March 14, 2020

A bathroom selfie

I did it as a joke

The face flushed a thousand toilets

There it is. The one that started it all

Since that time I’ve taken more pictures

Again, all with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek

In reply, I’ve received all manner of comments

“Damnit, I hate it when I click on these”

“About to unfollow”

“Dapper”

🤌

🔥🔥🔥🔥

“Don’t hurt em”

This one got the most comments. I think it’s the sport coat

All are valid responses

I generally let people know that the man in the mirror is a certified fool for doing this if anyone slides into the DMs. (Do the kids still say that?)

My mother calls bathrooms “rest rooms” which she shortens to “RR”. With her accent it sounds like “Aah Aah”. We say Aah Aah in my family when facilities are required for personal comfort

So, I’ve been taking pictures in the Aah Aah trying to make people laugh. Didn’t know I’d be making them mad, seem foolish, tricking their sense of propriety

One follower suggested a coffee table book

One suggested I begin a clothing line

One suggested I should be banned from using my phone

More than one has suggested I stop. Really. Please. Stop

Those who know me well can attest that I may be the least narcissistic person they know, which is in itself the most narcissistic statement I have ever written

In fact, I still have imposter syndrome, even though I’ve tried to get rid of that, too.

As Groucho Marx said, “Why would I want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member?”

These pictures are meant to make people laugh. I had no idea that such stupidity would cause so many reactions.

Especially with toilets, toilet paper, stalls, driers in the background

Again, as I have written to several commenters, “That guy is a fool”

See y’all in the Aah Aah

Hopsack, Hot, Cold

There Was Rice

Duncan Clinch Heyward wrote Seed from Madagascar in the 1930s. He wrote to chronicle rice cultivation in the Lowcountry from its beginnings in the late 17th Century to its end in the early 20th Century


First edition…still think it was designed to look like an old croker sack

According to Hewyard, it was rumored that Captain John Thurber gave rice seed to Dr. Henry Woodward while Thurber’s vessel harbored in Charleston. From whence came that rice seed? You got it. Madagascar. At least that’s how Mr. Heyward tells the story of the beginnings of rice culture round these environs. That tale is repeated in the Rice section of that venerable Charleston cooking tome, Charleston Receipts

“Long before there were cobblestone streets along the Charleston battery, there was rice, and there were slaves – the twin pillars upon which colonial Carolina wealth was built.” Duncan Clinch Heyward. Seed from Madagascar, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill (1937)

I have copy number 4593 of the original printing. Mr. Heyward claimed to be a distaff relation of Dr. Woodward, too.

From 1685 to 1914, rice grew in the Lowcountry in large amounts. The Big Gun Shoot ended slavery. Hurricanes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries inundated rice fields which could never recover. Subsidence of flooded land didn’t help either. Neither did the discovery that rice could be grown cheaper and easier in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas

Local farmers have brought back rice growing round these parts in the last few decades, but we will never be the rice kingdom we once were

Carolina gold indeed

Despite not having large scale rice production for over a hundred years, this part of the world still eats a lot of rice. LOTS of rice.

Mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving? Hell no

It’s always rice and gravy.

Any good meat and three restaurant round these parts always includes rice as a vegetable

Old joke:

Why are Charlestonians like the Chinese?

They eat rice and worship their ancestors

And, oh, what rice they eat! Almost all versions of which evolved from West African cooking through the same people who planted, tended, harvested, winnowed, and packaged the rice for market

From plain white rice steamed hard in the old school rice steamer, to Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, to Limpin’ Susan with okra, to all manner of pilaus, and, to get to the point at last, cooked with onions, bacon, and tomato paste to make red rice

Some people add a little sausage to it

Red rice is my all time favorite rice dish, which food historians now tell us is an adaptation of Jollof rice from West Africa. Makes sense considering the slaves who grew the rice were brought from West Africa because of their ability to handle a rice crop

There was rice

There were slaves

My mother makes a baked version with shrimp and sausage. It’s devine. She makes it in an old Le Creuset Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid

The old Piggly Wiggly at the Sea Island Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant made the best red rice. Hands down. Each grain separated. Each grain coated with tomato, bacon grease, a little salt sugar, pepper. Onions cooked to almost liquid. Sausage coins throughout. A little heat from black pepper, but not much else.

I make the red rice from Charleston Receipts. I steam it hard in the old aluminum rice steamer that my parents gave me. It had been given them as a present in the early days of their moving to Beaufort

When I was in college in Chapel Hill, my aunt and uncle who lived there would ask me to make them some red rice and bring it over from time to time. They would freeze it. Both from South Carolina, they just couldn’t find red rice in The Southern Part of Heaven in Orange County, North Carolina

I think red rice might be a dish served from Brunswick, GA, up to Wilmington, NC. The old rice growing areas of the Southeast. I don’t see it anywhere else on the menu

I was asked by a pal in Charlotte, NC, to share the recipe, or I guess I should say receipt

In the old seafood restaurants round here, seafood was always accompanied by red rice and cole slaw

The Shrimp Shack outside of Beaufort always serves red rice with their seafood. It’s perfection, too

This goes great with any manner of fish, shrimp, crab

It’s gluten free

It’s not Keto

It’s not vegan

It is a balm to the soul

If you don’t have a rice steamer, make the rice as set forth below, but add four cups of water, turn into a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients, and cover tightly with a lid or with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring a couple of times

But, really, if you don’t have a rice steamer, then, well, bless your heart

Just kidding

As I said above, my mother has baked her red rice for decades and decades, and it’s amazingly delicious with the addition of shrimp and sausage. I probably should get her receipt

But, I still steam mine

Jeanne Sams Aimar, whom I called Memar, our across the street neighbor growing up, has her version of red rice printed in Sea Island Seasons. Memar steamed her red rice. However, right next to Memar’s version is Mary Olive Whitney’s baked version. No right or wrong to it. Steam it or bake it.

This version is an adaptation of the Red Rice as printed in Charleston Receipts submitted by Mrs. Charles Gibbs (Wilmot Welch).

Scattered, smothered, covered, wrinkled, annotated

Red Rice

1 can tomato paste

3 cans of water – will make sense in a minute

1 large yellow onion, chopped fine

2 tsps salt

2 tsps sugar – yes – sugar

5 slices bacon

1 tbsp or more fresh ground pepper

2 cups raw rice – do not use Uncle Ben’s – trust me

Cook bacon until crisp in a large sauté pan. Remove bacon and crumble when cool. Sauté onions in bacon grease until soft. Do not brown. Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can up with water. Add to the onions and tomato paste. Do that two more times for a total of three cans of water. Told you it would make sense. Add salt, sugar, pepper. Cook until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place rice in top of rice steamer and add tomato paste mixture and mix well with a fork. Fill bottom of steamer with as much water so to steam hard but not to touch the bottom of the part that holds the rice. If you steam rice, then you know what I mean. Steam hard for 1/2 hour. Add the bacon and mix well. Steam for another 30 to 40 minutes. If it seems too dry, you can add another half cup of water. You generally don’t have too. Fluff with a fork to mix any sauce that has settled on the top.

Again, if no rice steamer is in your kitchen, add four cups of water and not three cans of water, turn into a baking dish large enough to hold all the ingredients, including the bacon, cover tightly with foil and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring a couple of times

Serve hot

I put a little hot sauce on the table when I serve it. Tabasco. Texas Pete. Whatever you like

As you savor each bite of goodness, remember to thank John Thurber, Henry Woodward, Wilmot Welch Gibbs (Mrs. Charles), and the thousands of slaves whose names will we never know who really brought, grew, harvested, and taught us to cook that seed from Madagascar

Class Clowns

“Wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera

In the spring of 1990, there were a privileged group of high school Seniors studying in the southwest back corner room of Bullfinch Hall on the campus of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts

We were taking a high level English class under the tutelage of Lou Bernieri, then head of the English Department. For some reason, I recall that we had to apply to take the class. I have been told that the class was called “The Myth of America”. I don’t remember what it was called, but I know we read great works, discussed them with great vigor, and wrote great responses to the writing

The material was all over the map, but there was a strong emphasis on magical realism and the beautiful word

Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, Don DeLillo’s White Noise; Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera; Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s Vibration Cooking: or, the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, which was my favorite since Ms. Smart-Grosvenor was from the Lowcountry. Yankees didn’t get it. A friend of mine and I did. Not sure why we read Garcia Marquez in that class, but we did

Speaking of the work, “A Small Good Thing” by Mr. Carver still makes me cry. “They waited all day, but still the boy did not wake up.” If you’ve never read it, I highly encourage it. Bring some tissues

In that rarefied environment, Hamlin O’Kelley, skinny white boy from the Lowcountry, and Todd Isaac, skinny black boy from the Bronx, sat side by side and cracked each other up and drove Mr. Bernieri crazy. We drove our classmates crazy, too. Wanda Mann still recalls our antics. She rolled her eyes in time with the rest of the girls in our class

“Ok, you, two. That’s enough,” Lou would say to us

“Oh, look, the odd couple are at it again”

“Isaac! O’Kelley! I swear I’m sending you two to [Mr.] Carter [the Dean of Students]!” He never did

Todd and I just found so much of the material to be fodder for jokes, which material could be a bit heavy

“Cholera? More like diarrhea! Of the mouth”

“So, the baker keeps calling and calling and calling. Why the hell doesn’t the dad just pay the damn $16.00?”

“The dude in the Hitler Studies department has a kid named Heinrich?”

“Airborne Toxic Event….like after Chicken Kiev from Commons?”

“Reading this makes me HONGRY, Lou!”

Basically, Statler and Waldorf type cracks all class

Todd and I looked forward to Lou’s class and would high five each other around campus whenever we saw each other

Todd and I did not have the same friend group otherwise. We didn’t eat in the same dining hall. We didn’t live in the same dorm. We didn’t hang out on weekends. We didn’t try to flaunt the rules of the Academy together

Todd’s family, like so many black families in New York City, was originally from the South. He told me stories of going to see relatives in North Carolina. When he found out I was going to the University of North Carolina, he said that he would come visit on a trip to see his family in Salisbury

Todd was going to Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He had been recruited to play basketball. I said may be I’d see him if I ever came back to Massachusetts.

“You’re never coming to Chapel Hill!”

“You’re never coming to Worcester!”

“Dude, no one wants to go to Worcester. Not even the people from Worcester”

And, then, Todd would laugh and crack another joke and slap me on the arm

“Hammy, you are terrible”

“Todd Antoine, you are terrible”. I liked to kid him using his middle name.

“Dude, that’s what my mama calls me when I’m in trouble”

“Dude”

We said “Dude” all the time. What were we? Surfers?

After graduating from high school, we went to our separate colleges. After college, I went on to live in Kenya for a year and then on to Law School. After college, Todd went on to working in finance in his native city

He wrote to me a couple of times when I was in Kenya. I wrote him a couple of times when he was in New York. I have the letters he wrote me in Kenya

Lots of jokes about whitey in his homeland. Asking if I felt out of place. Wondering if I had killed a lion on my safari

I can’t remember what I wrote him, but I knew he was off to a storied career already working those crazy NYC finance hours. First in; last out

Then, like a lot of friends, we lost touch. Not because of any falling out but because of entropy

The last I heard about Todd was that he had already become a partner at the place he worked

In big time finance

At Cantor Fitzgerald

One World Trade

Lest we forget

Todd Isaac died at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001

Twenty years ago today

When the news readers repeated the name Cantor Fitzgerald in the aftermath of that terrible day, I knew Todd was dead. We all did

I knew he was probably one of the first ones in to work and one of the last ones out. Always. First in; last out

I knew he probably cracked everyone up as he rode the express elevators to those fated floors. I knew he was cracking up his partners, his staff. I knew he was deadly serious about that which needed to be serious but with a strong sense of humor at the ready to take the piss out of anyone who needed it taking

In those pre-texting days, emails went around among our classmates confirming what we all knew

Todd was somewhere between the 101st and 105th floors of One World Trade that morning that began with the most blue of blue skies over Manhattan. The most beautiful of mornings

On each anniversary of September 11, I laugh and cry thinking about our whispering together, our disrupting, our discussing great literature under Lou Bernieri’s bemused gaze, much to the annoyance of our classmates

You know who you are

Lou acted mad, but Todd and I were the class clowns and class favorites. Lou has since confirmed our obstreperous presences made him smile. He loved that two so different fools found each other and bonded over the written word

In the years after 9/11, our schoolmates have hosted the Todd A. Isaac Memorial Basketball Tournament and an after party in Todd’s memory in New York City. Our high school’s alumni come to play and to laugh and to mourn and to remember. Proceeds established a scholarship to our alma mater in his name. Our class contributed early, often, generously. In two years, we had raised enough funds for a full schlarship in his name. Go Blue!

I need to go to the tournament sometime

Todd would laugh at my showing up and laugh even harder if I tried to play in the tournament

There is a scholarship to Holy Cross in his name, too.

In another twist, our classmate Jake Barton helped design the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Jake noted that Todd was in his thoughts literally every day as he worked on that sacred space

Every

Day

Jake confirmed that Todd would have been laughing his head off knowing that he, Jake, was on the job.

True statement

If you ever go to Ground Zero, please look for Panel N56 on the National September 11 Memorial and find Todd’s name

Kiss it for me

From the Andover Magazine. Enduring indeed

Sophomore Soar

What a difference a year makes

Last year’s initial college drop off for our elder daughter was tough

Not because of our elder flying the nest. I’ve never read Grown & Flown. Not planning on starting

It was tough because of Covid

Stupid Rona

Hate her

Last year, it was a drop off at the private dorms where I lived 31 years ago

Last year, it was masks and foreboding

Drop off 2020 – not that great

Last year, it was “Where You Heading Carolina?”which was a shaming social media account busting students gathering in groups of more than four and heading out to act like, well, people their own age

Last year, it was uncertainty and dark clouds hovering

Last year, it was graduate from high school and then three days later head to Chapel Hill

Well, this year, it was literally rainbows, unicorns, smiles from ear to ear, joy, joy, and more joy

It’s a great day to be a Tar Heel

#gdtbath

May be that is the benefit of being a sophomore and knowing a good group of people and having a sorority house in which to live in which friends of mine and my daughter’s have also lived. More on that later

May be it was that despite Delta variants and Covid protocols and unprecedented times and admonitions to “stay safe”, life does and will go on and on and on

Thanks be to God

This year’s drop off had a wonderful sense of opportunity and joy

The two weeks before, we began packing, assembling, putting together, organizing, check listing

The week before, we began to amass goods and furniture and items in the dining room

Three days before we had a family farewell supper at a restaurant

Two days before, we had a going away supper with dear pals

The day before, we loaded my car and our elder’s car with everything but hanging clothes and our spend the night clothes

The day of, we were out of our driveway and on the interstate by 8:30 a.m.

We had to be in Chapel Hill in time for a Zoom call at 3:00 p.m. for rush training

It’s a big deal

Trust me

We love Chapel Hill

We don’t love the ride

It’s really dull

I95 to I40

The only good thing about it is that we may stop for food at Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q

#scnbbq

There are two that we love

One in Lumberton – Exit 22 on I95 in North Carolina

One in Clayton/Fuquay-Varina – Exit 312 on I40 in North Carolina

Well, it was early, but we stopped at the Smithfield’s in Lumberton

There weren’t many people there

Even though the county seat of Robeson County is only 22 miles from South Carolina, it’s another world

I love their Eastern NC bbq, the fried chicken, the hush puppies, the slaw, the potato salad, the skinny french fries

But, what I really love is the people watching

“Y’all drive careful gettin’ home. We’s fixin’ to have a pour down”

That was the advice from one of the ladies who worked at the Smithfield’s in Lumberton

A pour down

I’ve never heard that term, but it’s mine now

This was also the same lady who said, “Lemme put this tray down right chere, and I’ll hep you with that in a sec”

I love North Carolina

After that repast, we rolled straight on into Chapel Hill

First stop, the Carolina Inn

Early check in requested and granted

We adore that place

Our daughters beat us there by a few minutes. I watched with pride as the elder spoke to the parking attendant, took her parking ticket, and drove over to the self parking lot

Such pride

We took all of our things to check in and Dylan welcomed us. I know him as Dyls at this point

Old pals

“Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. O’Kelley. See y’all will be here in September and November, too”

Our elder child texted her friends “They know my parents at the Inn. So on brand”

She was full of joy to be in town

We threw our things in our room and headed to Student Stores on campus to pick up some loot for a neighbor who is also a Tar Heel. He has to indoctrinate his children

Much to our chagrin, masks are still required in all UNC owned buildings, so it was masks for all of us

NBD

Then a little walk through campus on the way to Franklin Street

The Old Well, South Building, Tourists

Back to the Inn for our elder who had to jump on her Zoom

We wandered around Franklin Street seeking two items of UNC clothing, both of which we found

It was great to see people on the street

So different from last year

Then, back to the Inn for my wife and younger daughter

I stopped in at the Ackland Museum of Art, which is free and open to the public. Mask required. They have been closed for months and months for renovations and rona. It’s UNC’s art museum. Mr. Ackland wanted his fellow Tar Heels to have access to fine art. He did a great job even if the museum is greatly reduced due to staffing concerns during these, wait for it, unprecedented times

I did get to see Cleopatra and The Peasant by Delacroix. I wrote a paper about that painting for an art history class

Then, I met everyone back at the Inn

We heard Dyls telling another couple at the front desk that there were going to be two weddings that night

I told them they could crash both

I also advised that D.J. Joe Bunn would be working one of them

And, come on, free drinks!

My younger daughter was mortified

I have never crashed a wedding

At this point, we were flagging a bit. It was down to the Crossroads Restaurant for a drink and some snacks

And, it being Chapel Hill, for unplanned mini-reunions

I looked at this lady there

She looked at me

Finally, I said who I was

She replied, “Oh my Lord. Hamlin, it’s [So and So]. You know I’m [So and So]’s pal”

I have not seen her or her husband since 1994

She was dropping off her sophomore son

And, I met a dad who was there dropping off his daughter at the same place we would be

Lovely people

Always great to see a Tar Heel or three

We visited and hung out and laughed and talked about people we knew and who was where and what they were doing these days

As we sat on the patio near the front porch and visited with our pals, we noticed two girls on a Zoom not far from us

A few minutes later, our elder sent a text, “Y’all are on the Zoom background of [So and So’s] screen”

It was the daughter of the dad we had just met

“Y’all need to come back here tonight. We’re going to shut it DOWN”

That was going to be a no for me, but I love the idea

Anyway, after our refreshment, we had to go to Target, because one is never fully prepped for drop off

Then, it was finally time that we could go back to the room

We fixed an adult beverage and went to the private courtyard and garden while our children beautified themselves

No one is ever there in the courtyard

View from my private courtyard

Well, usually no one is there. The bride and groom and the wedding photographer of one of the weddings I planned on crashing all showed up. When we offered our congratulations, the groom seemed a bit grumpy

“Guess he forgot about the wedding night,” I said to my bride

“Shhhhh”, she said to me as we walked inside

We went back to the room to collect our people to go back to supper at 6:30

Early birds

Worms

Big day ahead

My younger child and I were leading the pack and crossing the lobby when a lady walking across our path stopped, turn, and said, “Hamlin? It’s [So and So]. I’m going to a wedding. Cocktails in the tent then supper in the ballroom.” I introduced her to our younger daughter

“What are y’all doing in town?”

“Moving [Elder Daughter] into the [Same Sorority She Was In] House in the morning.”

In response, the Wedding Guest did her arms in the Greek letters along with a signature move

“She’s going to have the best time. I loved living there. Ok – off to the wedding. Actually, they got married last year at Bald Head. This is just a celebration. I’ve not been out in months”

It was off to supper where another table of girls in another sorority and their parents were sitting

And we had a lovely meal

We all went back to the room instead of shutting down the bar

Everyone was asleep by 10 p.m. after watching the gripping “Thirteen Going on Thirty” starting one Jennifer Garner. I highly recommend it

The next day dawned early

I was up and at it

Took things to the car

Drank coffee fast

Straight to breakfast

Where we saw more girls who would be moving in shortly

And my new best friend fellow sorority dad

“What time did you go to bed?”

“Oh, we shut down the bar at 12:30”

“Just like [So and So] said she would”

“Oh yeh…see y’all in a few”

As soon as breakfast was wolfed down we hopped in our cars and drove to the Greek lettered building on East Franklin Street

And, then, it began

The sweat filled move in of 2021 at the [Greek Letter] [Greek Letter] House

Our poor daughter had never been in despite being a Sister/Brother for almost a year

We sweated, we lifted, we groaned, we moved, we coordinated

We spoke to everyone

Everyone spoke to us

By 10:30 we were finished

A few minutes later, one of the roommates announced she and her mama were pulling into the parking lot

I saw new best friend dad several times

We also saw other parents we knew and met some others

Old home week style

Ensconsed behind those two windows on the 2nd Floor – great view of Franklin St

Our younger daughter and I were the real man power, real woman power, real girl power

Elder daughter and Mama were decorators, bed makers, arrangers

Clammy with sweat we were

The house mother could not have been more lovely. She was ready to greet the girls with smiles and warmth and ready, willing, and able to help

And to take my check for the semester’s room and board

We walked back to Student Stores for an exchange and liquids

Then back through campus

“How about a picture by the Old Well?”

’24, ’94

So, iconic images captured

Of the Old Well, not the old alumnus and current student I mean

We went back to the house for one last check in with roomies before lunch

Trying to find the one restroom allowing men, I got turned around, again, and, got lost in the constant upstairs, downstairs. Through my sweat dried eyes, I turned and came face to face with a shot of Ginny Meeks, one of my oldest friends who lived in the same sorority house some thirty three years ago.

She died in 2017

She and I had a moment of prayer, then I may or may not have kissed the composite photo. I asked that she look out for our daughter and not let her doing anything she wouldn’t have done

And, yes, I kissed the glass

We went out to lunch at a local spot our daughter loves

We were all beyond hot and in need of more liquids

Back to the house to check that half of the occupants of the room were fully unpacked

Then, it was time to go

No tears at all

Just joyful hugs

“See you in a month”

“Parents’ weekend is going to be so much fun”

“We will mail you that stuff tomorrow”

“One last selfie”

“Let me take a picture of y’all”

All Smiles 2021

So much different this year

So much happier

So much joy

#gdtbath

It’s a great day to be a Tar Heel

The next day, I awoke to a text advising us that our elder daughter had a wonderful night, went out with a fun group, and hung out with a certain group of boys who live in a similarly Greek lettered establishment not too far away

Ginny was on the job already

Easy As

Pie

Of course

In the summer, when the tomatoes are really great, we make tomato pie, that wonderful concoction of layered tomatoes, green onions, basil, salt and pepper all baked under a mixture of cheese and mayonnaise.

We always buy two deep dish pie shells. Ain’t nothing wrong with store bought pie shells

We always say we’re going to use the other pie shell. We never do. Instead, we throw it in the back of the freezer where it burns and desiccates into a cracked mess

Instead of that waste, I am prone to make a dessert pie to go with the tomato pie

And, what is easy as pie?

Buttermilk Pie

Specifically that from one lady named Sibyl

I have a splattered sheet entitled “Sibyl’s Buttermilk Pie – Junior League of Jackson, Miss”

It’s really the easiest pie in the world

Most of time, I have the ingredients on hand

Yes, I still buy buttermilk

It’s a great summer dessert

Especially on a Sunday afternoon

And so damned easy

Sibyl’s Buttermilk pie

1 9 inch deep dish unbaked pie shell

1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons flour

3 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

Dash ground nutmeg or mace

Cream butter and sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. Add flour and mix well. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Stir in buttermilk, vanilla, and nutmeg. Mix well. Pour into pie shell and bake 350 for 45 -50 mins. May need to shield the crust after 30 minutes or so.

Let cool completely before serving

If you want to gild the lily, you can add whipped cream or some such when serving. I never do

With thanks to dear Sibyl from Jackson.