Breaking up Housekeeping

As we socially distance and self quarantine and occupy our time in ways productive, I have been pulling every weed in my yard, ironing all those clothes in that pile in the hamper, and polishing all of the silver

Polishing

Polishing

Polishing

Which, for odd reasons, makes me think of all that pre-Covid nonsense about “No One Wants Your Stuff” and “Death Cleanse” and “Grandmillennial”

All of that seems so silly now

Plus, I’ll take all the silver

Really

All of it

I’m sure it has a disinfectant quality (n.b. these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, EPA, SC DHEC, or your mama)

This spoon belonged to one of my great-grandmothers – notice the shape of the bowl – a little bit melted from use on wood burning stove sometime last century

They say brown furniture is making a come back

Where did it go?

Our decorating style is called Early Dead People as we love to use that which is inherited

I don’t speak Swedish

I don’t do Ikea

I speak Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Chippendale, Regency, the Brothers Adam

Adamsesque is one of best adjectives in the world

Duly noting all of that, and thinking a lot these days, one of the worst weekends of my life involved helping to clear out my maternal grandparents’ house of furniture, all browned and Hepplewhited and patinaed

Marble tops

Turned legs

Pieces from great great grandparents from Virginia

Mahogany

Walnut

Maple

Rosewood

My grandfather had died two years prior

My grandmother decided to break up housekeeping

She would be moving to an assisted living facility close to one of my aunts

Breaking up housekeeping

That may be only a term my family uses

Breaking up housekeeping

Distributing to children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews

My grandparents’ siblings all broke up housekeeping at one point

I remember when my Aunt Virginia broke up housekeeping

I remember when my Aunt Marion broke up housekeeping

Now, it’s called downsizing

But, back in 1998, it was called hell

Hell

My grandmother’s breaking up housekeeping remains literally one of the most traumatic experiences of my life

Same with my wife who was then my fiancée who should have broken up housekeeping with me before we even started

What a break up it was

I still process it

My Aunt Em, my cousin Marion (nicknamed Manny), my darling fiancée, and I literally broke up my grandparents’ household

In the summer

In Columbia, South Carolina

If you know anything about South Carolina geography, well, then, you can confirm that during our hot, humid, scorching summers only a broken screen door separates Columbia and the fires of Hades in those months

The summer my soon to be bride and I were studying for the South Carolina Bar Exam

The summer we had the added burden of helping clear out my grandparents’ house

I still don’t know where my mother and my other maternal aunt were during that weekend of blood, sweat, and tears

I actually cut myself on something

Bled like a stuck pig

So much sweat

Tears of sadness for what had been and knowing that it would be no more

I still don’t know where my two brothers and three first cousins were during that time

All I know is that we five intrepid souls were there in the heat of the last weekend in June

making numerous runs to the trash dump

pulling out a drawer stuffed with washed, cleaned, and neatly folded plastic bread bags and twist ties

disposing of so many packets of ketchup, jelly, nondairy creamers all taken from restaurants

emptying the back of the pantry of what had become biological weapons in the form of canned goods hoarded since the Kennedy administration

wondering why there was an entire drawer of rubber bands

discarding so many old Southern Livings and Field and Streams and National Geographics

taking shoes to the Goodwill

rifling through sock drawers stuffed to the gills with pairs of socks many of which were missing a mate

cussing in the heat

going in and out of the house so often that the air conditioning failed

tripping on piles of old tupperware, I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter containers, plastic sherbet bins long cleaned of their lemon, orange, or rainbow contents

asking why letters from people none of us knew where lodged in the drawers of the large butler’s secretary in the living room

“Who the hell is this person?” asked my Aunt Em upon reading one of the letters out loud to us

“Wisconsin? Mama doesn’t know anyone in Wisconsin”

Yet, there was copious correspondence from this lady in Wisconsin

Flipping the back of the envelopes

Names

More names

“Oh, I remember,” my Aunt said with her memory jogged reading one of the letters.  “That was a distant Boerner cousin who married a fellow from Milwaukee. I had no idea Mama kept up with them. Kin to the Huguenins, too. Grandaddy’s people.”

I had no idea of whom she spoke

My cousin Manny snorted, “Em, we don’t have time to read all that. We’re breaking up housekeeping!”

Serious as the heart attacks awaiting us in the heat

That is some serious bidness

Breaking up housekeeping

Manny would throw something in a Hefty trash bag in a New York nanosecond

“Y’all, why in the WOLRD did they keep all this? You know I had to do this for Aunt Jane, too?”

In one bathroom there were at least four cans of partially used AquaNet

In another bathroom there were towels too thin to be used yet too thick to be discarded

How many sets of sheets does one bed need?

Apparently linen closets full

Costume jewelry?

Come and get it

The grenade that Uncle Capers brought back from World War I?

“Don’t worry; it’s a dud”

Jade from someone’s trip to Japan?

Ceramic flowers?

Grape clusters made from marble?

If this sounds like your grandparents’ houses, please raise your hands

Articles state that breaking up housekeeping can be super traumatic

Believe you me

It is

For those doing the heavy lifting

During that weekend, my dear Manny and I were making a run to the dump when she looked at me and said, “Oh, Dear Gawd, I’m going home and throwing away half of what I own”

That statement has stayed with me through the years

My maternal grandparents had lived through the deprivations of the South during the early twentieth century, the Great Depression, and World War II

They saved everything

I do not

If you write me a lovely letter, I will read it, then I will recycle it

If you give me a fabulous gift that I do not love, I will re-gift it or pass it on or donate it

If you pass on to me my third grade report card, I will smile at those memories and recycle it immediately

My grandparents had already given away china, silver, furniture, jewelry

The good stuff

But, oh there was so much else

SO MUCH ELSE

At my grandparents house, we found all kinds of things no one wanted

We found threadbare throw rugs

We found old curlers

We found boxes of hair pins

We found sweaters with moth holes

We found my grandfather’s ties and suits long out of style

We found old bank statements stuffed in a drawer

We found tubes of lipstick with only remnants in the bottom yet still sitting on a dressing table

We found desiccated perfume bottles

We found random coffee cups given away as promotions at banks

We found old calendars

We found unfilled books of Greenbax stamps

We found cookbooks

We found shoe boxes without shoes

We found faded tintypes of family members that none of us knew and who none could recognize due to sun exposure

We found a photograph in a frame written on the back “Aunt Georgie” who looked like our people but Georgie who?

We found numerous copies of the South Caroliniana Magazine of the South Carolina Historical Society

We tossed it all

Except the tintypes and Aunt Georgie

Mean as hell

No mercy shown

Breaking up housekeeping for my grandparents made me the most cynical of housekeepers

When in doubt, throw it out

When we break up housekeeping for my parents’ and in-laws, I will be the one shaking my head “No” when asked if we should keep something

Adding to the contents of the local dump in what we hope will be the far distant future

Soberly

Stoically

Apathetically

I will toss it all

But, I’m keeping the silver

 

Senioritis – For the Class of 2020

img_0879
Seniors shine as angels in the Christmas Play at their school. Being a Senior is a BIG DEAL

 

When the girls from China who attend, now attended, my eldest daughter’s school were delayed coming back after the Lunar New Year, we weren’t concerned

When they announced the first case in Italy, we weren’t concerned

When they cancelled fashion week in Milan, we weren’t concerned

It’s just the flu

I have a friend at the CDC who asked, “Are you scared of the flu?”

This ain’t the flu

Daily updates and changes

Completely changed in a week

Faster than anyone saw coming

Except that blogger in Florida

When one weekend we were most concerned about springing forward

And the next we were social distancing

And now the schools are closed

And now my poor Senior in high school is sad, frustrated, sad, resilient, sad, resourceful, sad, angry, sad and still determined to not let this ruin her world

But, it has

How important are rituals during the last two years of high school?

Prom

Graduation

The best

And, now, this

The worst

The worst form of  Senioritis

I write the following to her and everyone in the Class of 2020

We love you

We are proud of you

We are sorry

So

Very

Sorry

You’ve come a long way, baby

To the Class of 2020

I am sorry

This stinks

Not cool

No Spring Breaks

May be no Parties

May be no Proms

May be no Prom Houses

May be no Graduation Weeks

May be no trips to the beach after school

May be no getting together on a regular basis

I am sorry

This stinks

Trust your feelings

Lean into them

The adults have no answers

Your generation probably has more answers than mine

I know you’re depressed

We are, too

Especially for you

I am sorry

This stinks

Your class were the babies born immediately prior to 9/11, during the aftermath of 9/11, and in the few months following

The High School Musical generation

To quote from the first one, “We’re all in this together!”

Children who grew up with anthrax scares

Snipers in DC

SARS

H1N1

MERS

Mersa

Ebola

The Wiggles would be telling Jeff to wake up because everybody’s washing their hands

Hannah Montana would be telling us “It’s the Climb”, but it’s our curve to flatten

Kim Possible would say “Call me, beep me, when you wanna reach me during these hard times”

Zack and Cody would tell you that you could come and stay with them at The Tipton, with appropriate social distancing of course

Bear in the Big Blue House would be advising you to clean up your hands!

Everybody clean up your hands!

Your class are now the Class of Covid 19

Even as the Class of 2020

I am so sorry

This stinks

While the azaleas burst forth, the daffodils sway, and the spireas spirea, well, you are at home with the rest of us

You are e-learning

You are flattening curves

You are drawing

coloring

creating

writing

talking

connecting

exercising

texting

Snapchatting

Instagramming

DM’ing

Tik Toking

following

un-following

self-caring

rationalizing

finding sliver linings

You are upset

You should be

You are more resilient than you know

You are a class act

We love you

We grieve for you and with you for this lost time

I pray one day you will see this as an opportunity in some strange way

A time for reflection

A time to find the green shoots amid the rocks

A time to laugh at any humor

Rays of sunshine in the clouds always poke through

Sic transit

This, too, shall pass

I am so sorry

This stinks

 

img_1423
We Heart You

 

The Great Disruption

“An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!” 

Mandalay, Rudyard Kipling

As quoted under the title of Chapter 13, “Coronavirus”, in Dr. Michael Osterholm’s Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs (Little Brown & Company, 2017)

 

items.[0].image.alt

A shot of a simulation of a compound (in gray) which can bind to the SARS-CoV-2 corona virus (in light blue/cyan)  to prevent it docking with our ACE2 receptors (in purple) as modeled by a super computer at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

 

Markers of time

B.C.

A.D.

Ancien Regime

Antebellum

Pre-Covid

I’m calling it The Great Disruption

Dr. Osterholm used Kipling’s poem as metaphor

Thundering new days out of China

Last week, it was kind of funny

This week, it’s serious

It was serious last week, too

Will be serious for months

Everything disrupted

Economic impact

Emotional impact

Listening to the experts

Long

Hard

Slog

A drive through for testing by the local medical university

Like out of a movie

Way to go MUSC

Six confirmed cases in the state so far

Just a matter of time before twelve

Then twenty four

Then forty eight

You get it

No more normal

No more subway rides

No more masks

No more shift breaks at the hospital

No more Volvo Car Classic Tennis Tournament

No more ACC Tournament

No more St. Patrick’s Day Parades

No more NCAA Tournament

No more school

No more Broadway shows

No more NBA

No more MLB

No more NHL

No more Capitol tours

No more haircuts

No more manicures

No more pedicures

No more Bull Market

No more face to face meetings

No more eating out

No more room for pasta, rice, grits in the pantry

No more oyster roasts

No more classes at the University

No more classes at the College

No more Spring Breaks

No more flights from Europe (unless you’re the UK or Ireland)

No more Disney World

No more lines at airports

No more economic growth

No more Universal Studios tours

No more taped in front of a live studio audience

🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠

No more ventilators

🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠

No more tests

🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠🦠

Cancel culture

Flatten the curve

Alternative instruction

Chapped hands from all that washing

Yet the cruise ships keep coming and going from the port

Adjustments as necessary

For months to come

If all this works, everyone will say we over-reacted

If none of this works, everyone will say we did not do enough

Is this what January 1942 felt like?

Must have been

And, keep washing your hands, kids

Godspeed

 

 

 

 

 

We All Fall Down

img_1613
It is kinda pretty, this Nsp 15 protein in the Covid-19 coronavirus. Photo by researchers at the University of Chicago 

 

This is what it must have been like during the Black Death’s early stages

This is what it must have been like one hundred and three years ago with the Spanish Flu

Or may be not?

At least bubonic plague is a bacterial infection

Rat to flea to human

From the Steppes to Turkey to Europe

Now, it’s from the wet markets to the cruise ships to the guy in New Rochelle who wandered the canyons of Manhattan

Hysteria

Paranoia

As long as I take that immune boosting silver, I’ll be fine

As long as I don’t travel, I’ll be fine

As long as I read The Masque of the Red Death, I’ll be fine

Our own personal Decamaron 

Scientists at the University of Chicago have isolated that protein pictured above, the Nsp15

Isolated to deconstruct and interrupt

One of the steps in creating a vaccine

That school can do no wrong

But, yet, still, in spite of this good news, there is so much hype

So much panic

So much pandemic

Pan was a nasty goat footed deity

Or was he? See, e.g., Jitterbug Perfume

You might want to read it during your quarantine

The Great Plague gave us nursery rhymes children recite to this day

Ashes ashes, we all fall down

Urge caution

Ease fear

“I basically feel like I’m sending my child to his death,” said the father in Seattle

“Months not weeks,” said Mayor DeBlasio

“You don’t need a mask; wash your hands,” said the Surgeon General

Can’t wait to fly in a few weeks

Plane might be empty

I’m going to have to say something to Beth Emhoff when I see her next time

Seriously

I’m going to say something

img_1607
That’s Beth there in the lower right corner

 

In the meantime, I will keep washing my hands

In the meantime, I will keep turning off the press-credentialed purveyors of pandemonium

In the meantime, I will keep about the daily routine

In the meantime, I will keep asking y’all to quit hoarding toilet paper

Really

Quit hoarding toilet paper

 

 

 

 

Partners in Law

img_1554

 

My law partner, Gray Taylor, died unexpectedly this past June. That is he right there.

His lovely bride, Margaret, asked me to give a tribute to him at the Charleston County Bar Association Meeting.  Each year, the Bar pays tribute to those members who have died during the year.

It was a privilege and an honor to be chosen to speak in memory of Gray. 

I wrote this tribute to him, but, in true Bar fashion, they wanted off the cuff remarks to be recorded. 

Here’s what I would have said:

I had the pleasure of practicing law with Gray Taylor for fourteen years.  I had the ultimate privilege of calling him my friend from our first day of Law School until the day he died.  From August of 1995 to June of 2019, our nearly quarter century of friendship will always be one that I treasure and miss.

Gray and I literally bumped into each other our first day of law school at Carolina.  Our lockers were by each other’s. Lockers. So middle school. Just like Law School itself.

We introduced ourselves and then, I said, “Oh, I was supposed to look for you. You married one of the Moss twins. I knew them in Beaufort growing up.”  He replied, “Oh, you’re Hamlin.”

Friends ever since

Throughout law school, Gray managed to mix his hobbies into his legal studies.  Gray was an avid outdoorsman. He loved to hunt.  He loved to fish. He loved to be in the woods.  One morning, as we were all going into an insurance class, Gray rolled into class covered in mud. He had gone on an early duck hunt down in Jasper County, bagged a few mallards, and then high tailed it to Columbia to make our mid-morning class.  Some classmates gazed in horror at Gray’s camo-clad and mud spattered outfit.  Others asked how the hunting went

Gray actually came to law school about a year after working for an engineering firm flagging wetlands which was how he put to use his Masters in Forestry from Clemson.  He flagged wetlands on Daniel Island and joked about not wanting to wear snake boots to work every day.  As his beloved bride Margaret let me know, ironically, one of the last pictures taken of Gray was of him in snake boots in the woods.

Gray made law school seem easy.  He found a fun crowd, of which I include myself, connected deeply with Professor Stephen Spitz about what we all call ‘dirt law’, enjoyed the moot court, and actually had time to build two boats by hand.  Gray was always building, tinkering, and working.

Gray went to work with a law firm in Bluffton after law school and his first big case was about deer population control in Sea Pines.  He would have gladly hunted the deer himself instead of representing the Property Owners Association.

Gray was also involved in a dispute over residual property ownership in the same development.

His ‘dirt law’ bona fides were long

Ultimately, Gray moved into the development and transactional side of the law, leaving me to run with dirt litigation

Gray was my sounding board, my fellow co-conspirator, and my confessor

He and I were proud of our firm’s work in quieting title to land that last had good title in 1883.  He was proud that were were able to clear up ownership of the parcel at Meeting & Huger Streets downtown.

He was not afraid of being controversial as he shepherded the development of a certain parcel in Mount Pleasant that gave rise to an anti-development group that some say changed politics in Mount Pleasant for the last few years.

Gray was proudest of his years of marriage to his beloved Margaret, and his heart burst with pride for his daughters Emma and Eliza

Gray delighted in the accomplishments of all three of them and would brag about them to us…not in a boastful way…but in the way that let us all know that Gray could not believe how he got to be so blessed to have these three women in his life.

Gray and Margaret went to camp together, dated all through college, and were married by the time we got to law school.  He worshiped her.

Gray was wild about music! If it was played on the Outlaw Country channel on Sirius XM, it was probably something Gray knew and sang

From the time they were dating to the present, Gray would send mixed tapes, CDS, and playlists to Margaret for Valentine’s Day

Most people didn’t know that side of him

Most people also didn’t know that Gray was wild about his Labradoodle, Hazel, whom he taught to retrieve a ball.  But, she was useless on a duck hunt as the ducks were often bigger than she was

In addition to being an outdoorsman, Gray was an adventurous cook, something not everyone knows, but something his girls appreciated and miss

Gray loved our law firm and the people in it

He loved passing out the year end bonuses, arranging boat trips, attending events with those of us lucky enough to work with him

He would sometimes surprise us, such as shooting his nerf gun at us, or performing handstands against a wall in the hallway during his Cross Fit phase

There was not a day in the 14 years we practiced together where we didn’t talk – whether we agreed or disagreed – we knew we could always count on each other and the folks at our firm, Buist, Byars & Taylor

I miss his laugh

I miss his knowing looks

I miss his advice and counsel

I miss him every day

Not Shying Away

A group of us are on the committee to plan our thirtieth reunion at a little school in Massachusetts

One of our committee suggested we have a band as entertainment on that Saturday night

Rockin’ those 80’s covers all night long

The Buggles

Duran Duran

R.E.M.

Run-D.M.C.

The Talking Heads

New Order

Bon Jovi

These are my people

The school assigns a rep from the Alumni Office to assist each class with planning

A Young Thing who knows not much about our class

We have these reunions every five years

This is our sixth time planning a reunion

We did such a good job with our 25th that now every class behind ours copies our playbook

Well, bless the heart of the Young Thing in the Alumni Office

It has taken three months and twice as many conference calls to move the ball on the band

The trick is that the school with the endowment of over a BILLION dollars will not pay for a band

But no band money

Not a dime

Billions for education, but not one cent for A-ha!

The reunion attendees can fund the cost either divided between all the attendees or a group can step forward and fund the band

On a recent Friday call, I volunteered to contact some classmates about funding the band

We hung up with each other at 3:49 p.m.

By 4:26 p.m., I had secured the funding for the band

Three text messages

One phone call

Two weeks later, we had all made our funding contributions

That’s how devoted we are to each other

That’s how we do it

The Young Thing assigned to help us could not believe how quickly and efficiently we were able to accomplish this feat, which was no feat at all

On another call, a friend called me The Closer

To paraphrase those lads from Oslo, we don’t shy away

My reply, “No, we’re just Gen X. We get [expletive] done”

If you know, you know

 

img_1443
Straight out of 1984

 

Rigged

The system is rigged

I’ve heard it for years

Now, I believe it

1000%

Totally rigged

Unfair

Biased

The college admissions system

That which was brought to the light by Aunt Becky’s schemes to get her children into schools in California, with that being the reductio ad absurdum 

Our eldest is in the thick of it.  She has been accepted by several schools. Truly competitive places. We are beyond proud of her. I take nothing from her accomplishments, which are many. A first choice. A second choice. A third choice

Amazing accomplishments

img_0225
Stock image of a certain school in Chapel Hill

 

But, she has had every educational advantage from the time of pre-K through her senior year of high school

She has had years of summer camps, travel, exposure, enrichment, jobs

She has had years of hard work

Lots of hard work

Her hard work would have been a lot harder had she had to worry about from whence cometh her next meal

Her hard work would have been a lot harder had we not been able to hire that standardized testing tutor who helped her scores move into the more competitive range

Her hard work would have been a lot harder had we not been able to go on extensive college visits

Her hard work would have been harder had we not had a network of friends all over the country who could fill us in on tidbits, advice about certain schools

Her hard work would have been a lot harder had we not encouraged her every idea

Her hard work would have been a lot harder had she not been read to every single night as a young child

None of that is to take away from her

She did it

Completely did it

It just helps to have some help

Because the system is rigged for children such as mine

 

img_9831
Stock image of a certain school in Charlottesville

They can afford tutors

They can afford technology

They can afford the latest clothes

They can game the system

They can figure out how to take tests

They can get better grades

They were read to constantly as babies and young children

They had the phonics of fourth graders in kindergarten

At or above grade level always

They always succeed

Just like their parents

Those same parents also benefited from a similarly rigged system some thirty years ago because their grandparents benefited from a similarly rigged system some sixty years ago….and on and on back until…well…who knows

Privileged

Completely privileged

However, the days of calling someone you know to get your child into a certain school because that family friend served on the Board, well, they are over

Doesn’t change the fact these children are in separate classes of competition

We all gawked in horror at Felicity Huffman and crew trying to buy their children’s way into colleges

Yet, who among us wouldn’t go to a Club Fed for two weeks if it ensured our child got into the school of his or her choice?

Don’t lie

We would all do it

My children have benefited from, and will continue to benefit from, their parents’ education, job choices, income levels

So many just cannot compete with that accident of birth

As I have read article after article about this very fact, I have been skeptical

I have poo-pooed such broad statements from these polemics

Now, I could not agree more with them

I have lived it

The whole system is rigged to ensure that certain students from certain socioeconomic groups remain in those socioeconomic groups

Education is the great affluence builder

For those with great affluence

It is not an equal playing field

In the 18th Century, a gift of land ensured entry into the right class

In the 21st, a gift of education ensures remaining in the right class

Those with more education statistically have higher incomes, better health, happier lives, more friends

Those without the disposable income cannot enlist the same resources

Those without the disposable income cannot enlist private college counselors to assist in the decision making process

Those without the disposable income cannot send a child on a weekend to stay with a friend

It’s a club, really, and, good luck getting into it if you’re not already in it by accident of birth

Again, I take nothing from the dogged pursuit of excellence by my eldest and by her younger sister and all of these talented young folks

I just know that they have an easier time of it than so many

They and most of their friends

 

img_8379
Stock image of a certain school in Winston Salem

 

Affirmative action? I am now all for it provided it’s not setting up a child for failure

Because I have seen that, which is almost as depressing as the system itself

Which is totally rigged

In favor of children like mine

I don’t care what you say about that child you knew from the wrong side of the tracks whose father was (deceased)(making minimum wage)(in prison)(out of the picture)(in and out of rehab)  and whose mother was (deceased)(making minimum wage)(in prison)(out of the picture)(in and out of rehab) and who was raised (in foster care)(by his grandparents)(by an aunt) who did really well at (name the school) and went on to (medical)(law)(dental)(engineering) school

Outlier

Take a survey of any of the top boarding schools, the top private schools, the top public schools with a relatively affluent student population

Most, if not all, of those children are headed to college and got into competitive schools

That’s who the college admissions process favors

Flat out favors

I know

I’ve seen it in action over the past two years and will see it again in a few more

Thrilled to death that it does favor children like mine

Legacy admissions may be going the way of the Dodo

The current legacy of admissions is here to stay

At least for the foreseeable and my-family-benefiting-future