Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Chitty

In the late 1970s, a retired Naval officer and his bride moved in a couple blocks away from us on The Point in Beaufort, South Carolina.  They bought Madeline Pollitzer’s old house

Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Chitty

She was the former Penelope Rhoads of Sewickly, just outside of Pittsburgh, PA

Penny to all who knew and loved her

He was a former country boy from Olar, South Carolina

Charles or Charlie to all who knew and loved him

I called them Mr. and Mrs. Chitty

I knew them and loved them both

They knew and loved me and my parents and my brothers

Adored, really

The Chittys had two boys, Byron and Charles

Byron we barely knew. He was older

Charles, we knew because he was the definition of an angry youth who moved to a neighborhood he didn’t know, in a town he didn’t know, around kids he didn’t know. All at a time when children should be left in the same place to graduate from school. He would cross the street to play basketball with us, even though he was much, much older than we. O.k., only six years older, which is a light year at that age

Charles Chitty had served in Naval Intelligence and had been an aide and right hand to Admiral McCain during the Vietnam War

He always told us he would have to kill us if he told us what he actually did during Vietnam

A complete badass

Especially for a kid from the crossroads of Olar, South Carolina, where his family were the be all, end all. As with so many small towns in South Carolina, there were lovely people in Olar, the Chittys chief among them

During their time in D.C., Roberta McCain often pressed Penny Chitty into service for bridge games. Penny also advised Mrs. McCain on her extensive Chinese Export collection.

“Well, you know, Mrs. McCain would call and say, ‘Penny, I need a fourth for bridge. Let’s kick these bitches’ asses’ , and we would.”

Penny’s family were old money folks

Steel money

She had a great jewelry collection, a great Meissen collection, a great Flora Danica collection, a great closet of clothes and shoes

She had a keen sense of humor and a wicked wit

Charles Chitty served as the Executive Director of the Historic Beaufort Foundation for a time

During that same time, Penny worked for a local contractor whose family had known hers Up Nawth, or something like that

When they moved to town, their cousins and our down the street neighbors, the Pringles, introduced them to everyone. Charles graduated form the University of South Carolina with a whole mess of Beaufort folks who knew him well, too.  They were immediately included by all of Beaufort’s nicest people as they were some of the nicest people I have ever known

My family’s Sewanee cousins knew their Sewanee cousins. Connections were made by our other cousins. In earlier days, there would have been letters of introduction

Penny and Charles were also two of the absolute funniest, most irreverent, most genuine, most generous, most knowledgeable, most well read, most dignified, most hilarious, most loving people I have ever known

My father did legal work for the Chittys from time to time

One day, when Charles was working for the Historic Beaufort Foundation, my father walked from his office at 715 Bay Street to the Verdier House in the next block in which the Historic Beaufort Foundation literally housed itself. He needed Charles to sign something. Henrietta Smith served as the long suffering secretary for the Historic Beaufort Foundation. While my father was speaking to Charles, the phone rang. Henrietta answered.

“Charles,” she intoned, “Mr. [So-and-So], a Trustee, is on the phone.”

“Well, goddamnit, I know who the man is, Henrietta, and I don’t give a rat’s ass. I’m talking to George”

And, that, was Charles in a nut shell

His son Charles often bullied us as we played basketball behind The Oaks, the home of Evelyn and Paul Schwartz, whose grandchildren were our age and were and are friends

Young Charles would push us, run roughshod over us, steal the ball

One day, I got up the nerve and complained to Mr. Chitty

“Well, knock his clock off,” was his reply

I don’t think Penny would have appreciated that

In her Western Pennsylvania accent, softened through time at an appropriate finishing school, Penny was wont to say, “Well….you….know……” and then divulge some confidence standing with her arms akimbo and hips slightly tilted to the side, jaw slightly locked

After a few years in Beaufort, the Chittys opened an antique store, that they would eventually own with several other Beaufort people: Chitty & Kennedy; Chitty & Smith; Chitty & Murphy

Both Penny and Charles had great eyes for beauty. They taught anyone who would listen about the pieces in their store

Painted chairs reached their apotheosis in Baltimore

Certain types of feet indicate New York

Pine is usually the secondary wood in Southern furniture

Hunt boards used to be junky afterthoughts kept in the barn or under the house

Every family had a pie safe or a sausage making table or a harvest table

There should always be a little yellow, a little black, and a little red in every room

The Antiques Road Show makes everyone think they’ve got a Duncan Phyfe sofa in their attic

My mother and father have pieces from them

My bride gave me a sofa table from them for our wedding

I bought a silver butter dome from them that we still use

I regret not having had enough money to have purchased a long Irish wake table from them when I was still in college.

It was a thing of beauty

“Well, you know, Hambone,” Penny conspired. “The Irish really do lay out their dead on these and have everyone to the house. Can you imagine? I mean, I know your last name is O’Kelley, but can you imagine? All those people in your house, absolutely smashed! Well, you know, come to think of it, it does rather sound a lot like a Beaufort funeral doesn’t it?”

Penny would giggle at so many things, including the lady who cleaned their store and their house who would insist that Mrs. Chitty purchase more Comet to clean the sinks, but the lady called it “Comic”

“Can you believe she says, Comic? ‘Miz Chitty, get me more Comic.’ I still think she’s referring to my mother-in-law and not me”

And, then she would howl

On one trip to Beaufort, my aunt, who lives in Chapel Hill, fell in love with a chest of drawers in their store and bought it on the spot

Without consulting us, Penny offered my services and my brothers’ to deliver the piece to Chapel Hill for my aunt

“Well, you know, the O’Kelley boys will of course bring it on up to Chapel Hill for you. I’ll just make them do it”

We did that for our aunt and for Mrs. Chitty

Without question

The Chittys’ store was almost like an old general store, except no one gathered round the wood stove or the cracker barrel. Instead, there were always Beaufort folks sitting on a Hepplewhite sofa or in a Martha Washington lolling chair

It was a great place for news

And, Penny and Charles knew it all

“Well, I saw [So and So] at the likka store. He really needs to quit drinking”

“Have y’all seen [So and So] lately? I told her I could recommend a good plastic surgeon if she’s interested”

“Well, you know, [So and So]’s cancer has returned. And. It’s. Not. Good.”

“The rumor was that the character of [So and So] in Pat Conroy’s latest is based on [So and So].”

I swanny their Naval intelligence days served them well

Despite their constant irreverence, they were people of great substance

They loved their friends deeply and would have walked across hot coals for them

They gave lovely presents

I continue to use the silver letter opener they gave me when I graduated from Chapel Hill

In 1989 we lost a dear mutual friend who was only 13 years old

It was a blow to the entire town

During those bleak days, Charles would see us and say, “Well, fuck a duck”

I will never forget hearing Charles say that over and over again, as only he could say, “Well, fuck a duck” as we began to process the loss of our friend

That’s when you knew things were really bad in life

If Charles Chitty said, “Well, fuck a duck”, then, well, fuck a duck

He often said it when people died

He often said it when an idiot would leave his store after making some stupid remark

“Oh, did you hear that? Well, fuck a duck. I think he must have had a lobotomy this morning.”

The late Marie Rudisill, who would later gain fame as the Fruitcake Lady, lived in Beaufort and had Charles sell some of her family pieces. She was Truman Capote’s aunt.  Both Mrs. Rudisill and Mr. Chitty pronounced Truman’s last name as “Ca-pote” not “Ca-po-tay”.  When I once corrected him on the pronunciation, Mr. Chitty said, “Well fuck a duck, don’t you think his own aunt knows how to pronounce his name?”

People were forever bringing treasures to the Chittys to have them appraised, as Charles was a certified appraiser. One day, we were in the store when a lady arrived with a set of china that she told Charles was worth a lot.  She said it had been in her family since the 1700’s.  She said it was marked “KPM”

“It’s probably from Frederick the Great’s factory in Germany,” said the matron

Charles cut his eyes at Penny; Penny covered her mouth

Charles told the lady to leave the box, leave her number, and he would assess the china and call her

The cost would not be much for the appraisal

The lady left the store

Charles looked at us and said, “Oh, I am sure it will be stamped ‘Made in Occupied Japan’; Frederick the Great from the 1700’s my ass”

One lady in Beaufort fancied herself to be quite the decorator. She often came into the Chittys’ store to pick out pieces for her myriad clients whose names she dropped regularly. The woman’s hubris knew no bounds

Charles used to say about her style, “Oh, I think So-and-So is very talented, if you like Early Bordello. Belle Watling taught her everything she knows”

My parents would double up with laughter

I was too young to get the references to the whorehouse or to the Madame from Gone with the Wind.

The first time I really showed off my then girl friend to my Beaufort friends and family was at my parents’ Christmas Drop In which they held the Sunday before Christmas for years

The Chittys were always on the guest list

After introducing Mary Perrin to the Chittys, Charles Chitty looked her dead in the eye and said, “Well, my dear, if any of these assholes give you any trouble, come find me and I will take care of them.” He meant it

Penny rolled her eyes and said, “Charles! Don’t say that to the child. She doesn’t know you yet!”

Mary Perrin fell in love with both of them immediately and they with her

Penny Chitty adored my mother

“Well, you know, your mother is pretty neat”

She would say to me, “Well, you know, Yancey has some lovely pieces” referring to furniture she had bought from them over the years

“May be if you play those cards right, it will all be yours one day. Especially that needlepoint chair. We should have never let that go! But, I’m glad Yance has it.”

Penny used to crack herself up and cackle into her self

She used to laugh hardest recounting stories of her working for a local contractor and the women who worked in the office

“Well, you know, their dream is to go to The Steamer on a Friday night and have someone buy them a wine cooler. Can you even imagine? It’s the highlight of their week.”

The Steamer was a seafood restaurant and bar across the river on Lady’s Island

Disdain, thy name was Penny

Penny would converse in French with her eldest just to make the two Charles in her life mad

Penny would also say that she didn’t know what she was going to do with all her stuff as no one in her family wanted all of it

“Who will take my mother’s Sevres? Who? No one wants it. Well, you know, I’m right about that”

Penny was not being affected. She really wondered who would take her mother’s porcelain

Penny shocked us all when she returned from a minor vacation with a major facelift

Palm Beach Wind Burn

Penny did not care and would ask us how we thought she had turned out from her hours under the knife

“Well, you know, I don’t want to look like [So and So]” who had had a facelift a couple years earlier. “Her ears practically meet atop her head!”

The Chittys gave me a silver letter opener when I graduated from Chapel Hill.  It sits on my desk. I use it daily

I think of them every time I tear through an envelope

Unfortunately for all of us, Penny’s ovaries betrayed her in the mid-90s

By the time her cancer was detectable, it had really spread all over and all within her thin frame

Not to be daunted, Penny began to turban her head with Herm├Ęs, Gucci, Lilly Pulitzer, Pucci, Prada, and other designer scarfs. Sometimes they would flow. Sometimes they would be tight around her head. They always matched her outfit. We gave her a Lilly Pulitzer scarf to add to her collection. She wore it to a funeral during that time and pointed to it mouthing, “This is from y’all!”

Her cancer spread while I was in law school

My parents kept me informed

My mother took flowers and meals but nothing with garlic

Penny despised garlic, “Well, you know, it does ruin the breath and my mother associated it with the help.”

Ouch

I wrote Penny letters as her illness progressed

I also went to see her over my Christmas vacation my third year in law school

It was clear she was a sick woman

“Well, you know, I will be receiving like the Empress Elizabeth of Russia before too long. She only took audiences in her boudoir spread upon a gilded Recamier”

In May of 1997, I wrote her a letter referencing her recumbent state

It was the last correspondence we would exchange

There, at her side when she died were her beloved Charles and her children and her dear pal Joyce Gray, also of Beaufort, who had grown up with Charles in Barnwell and Bamberg Counties, too

Before she died, Penny planned the reception to be held at her house with Harold Atkins bar tending, his daughter Francine Moultrie serving, and Madeline Politzer catering

“Tell Madeline, that even though this used to be her house, I want my menu,” Penny told Charles

After her funeral, at said reception, Joyce Gray told me that as she made her way to the grave, Penny mentioned me. “Tell Hamlin, Joyce. Tell Hamlin….those letters…..”

She died a few hours later surrounded by those who loved her.

Upon hearing those words from Mrs. Gray, I buried my head on her shoulder. Joyce Gray quietly patted my head and said, “Oh, she loved you so”

Penny
At least we can visit with Penny at St. Helena’s in Beaufort

 

In her will, Penny left a Meissen tea cup with an Augustus Rex mark to my mother, from the time of Augustus the Strong, Elector of the Saxony, used at his Court

Circa 1720

May be if I play my cards right, it will be mine one day

Charles remained heartbroken after Penny died

He carried on and carried on her memory, telling us wickedly funny stories about their time in Washington, about people in town, about everyone and everything

The antiques store remained open for years and years after Penny’s death

Charles attended our wedding two years later, giving us a beautiful antique candle stand from the Abbeville District of South Carolina along with twelve huge red wine goblets. We still have six of them

Presenting us with the table, Charles said, “I know that the Perrins have a connection to Abbeville, and this is an Abbeville made piece. Use it as a night stand, a lamp table. But, use it, goddamnit”

It sits by our sofa in our den today

In explaining the wine goblets, he said, “Oh, red wine swirling in those will be sexy as hell. But, don’t let any assholes drink out of them”

Charles’s favorite word for me was obstreperous

“Bubba, you are obstreperous” he told me time and time again

I never saw that in myself, but he did

He was a huge fan of me, my brothers, the Schwartz, Williams, Robinson, Meeks, Trask, Credle, Gray, Jeter, Dukes, Sanders, Moss, Tucker children. He loved us all and our families

He knew our children, too

When our eldest was two, we mailed him a Christmas card of our daughter in a smocked purple dress holding an ornament and smiling

Mr. Chitty wrote me back

Dear Ham

Good to see you and Mary Perrin are using liturgically correct colors for Advent. Christmas begins on Christmas Eve.  Love to your girls for a very Merry Christmas – Charles

As he aged, Mr. Chitty’s body tricked him, too, with Parkinson’s and with some memory issues

One time, after he had moved into an assisted living facility, I went to see him when I was in Beaufort.  We discussed life, love, death, the afterlife

“I tell you one goddamn thing right now, Bubba,” he said to me. “It’s not very Christian of me, but I believe that when it’s over, it’s all over. I used to have those discussions with Frank Limehouse, too.”

The Reverend Frank Limehouse served as the Rector of St. Helena’s

“But, Mr. Chitty,” I said, “You go to church all the time. You love the hymns. You recite the Creeds. You even tell people that nice people sit on the right side of the church, since Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. I’ve heard you say it.”

“Well, Hambone, nice people do sit on the right side of the church. But when it’s all over, it’s all over.”

I certainly hope he’s wrong about that

In the last few years of his life, the Chitty boys moved their father to a nursing facility outside of Beaufort

None of us said goodbye

There was no service at St. Helena’s

There was only a brief blurb in the paper when he died

There was a private burial at the family cemetery in Olar, SC

None of us knew when that event took place back in 2013

And, for that, I say, well fuck a duck

Basil Sauce

In the summer, are there any two better words than “tomato season”?

From early June to mid July, tomatoes are in, meaning that the local tomatoes are ready

Like generations of Beaufortonians, I worked in a tomato packing shed in the summers

Those are tales for another day

When the tomatoes are in season, we serve them a lot

Like a lot

This summer I have been peeling them and slicing them paper thin with a tomato knife someone gave us when we were hitched.  Yes, there is such a thing as a tomato knife

We serve them with either my silver tomato server or my wife’s silver tomato server.  Yes, there is such a thing as a tomato server.  And, yes, my wife and I each have our own, because, well, the South

I grew up with sliced tomatoes on the plate through the summer

A perfect summer breakfast on the weekend involves sliced tomatoes

My grandparents ate them on the same plate with cantaloupes, musky and fecund, sausage, bacon, hominy, eggs, biscuits, toast

When my wife and I were dating, her mother introduced me to the most perfect accompaniment for sliced tomatoes: Basil Sauce

This is her receipt

I haven’t a clue where she procured it

Not only is this heavenly on sliced tomatoes, but it’s great on grilled chicken, steaks, baked fish, cold asparagus, cold green beans

It works really well on a tomato sammich on lite bread, too. The kind where the lite bread sticks to the roof of your mouth.

My sister-in-law, Margaret Johnson Kunes, loves Basil Sauce

Like loves

So do I

Wonder if it’s wrong to drink it?

With thanks to my sister-in-law Elizabeth West Johnson for sharing the receipt in her Cooking Up A Storm, Christmas ’96, compilation of family treasures for spilling the secret. It’s out there now

Serving suggestion with tomato servers

 

Becky Johnson’s Green Basil Sauce

 

1/3 cup white vinegar

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1/2 cup basil leaves, packed super tightly, the more the merrier

1 clove garlic, smashed or roughly chopped

1/3 cup vegetable oil – only vegetable oil, not corn, not canola, not olive, not walnut – but vegetable

1 cup sour cream

3 tbsp Italian flat leaf parsley

1/2 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of sugar

 

In the bowl of a food processor, add the vinegar, mustard, basil, and garlic. Mix until smooth. You may have to use a spatula a time or two to make sure the bowl is scraped down and mixed. Using the feed tube, while the processor is running, add the oil in a steady stream. Once that is fully mixed, add the remaining ingredients at the same time. Then pulse several times until fully combined. Chill until ready to serve

Notes: use full fat everything and vegetable oil. I tried this with olive oil. I did not work. As for salt and pepper, I love both, but let your taste buds guide you. I mean I’m crazy about pepper. Once I made this and it was basil pepper sauce. You can always add; you can’t take away.

I have even been known to dip lite bread in it as a way to get it down my gullet

Again, would be wrong to drink this?

I don’t think so

 

On Mourning

 

And, Death, once dead there’s no more dying then – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 145

Charleston’s riverside necropolis, Magnolia Cemetery

One of the worst things about getting older is that we attend more funerals

Cancer

Cancer

Heart attack

The causes of death of three lovely people whose funerals I have recently attended

The last one came as a shock

No warnings with cardiac events

As news spread of my pal’s death, people began to call, to text, to message, to ping

“What happened?”

Not helpful

The person is gone

Would have been kinder and nicer to just say, “I’m sorry”

Everyone says “sorry for your loss”, which, personally, I despise.  I am still struggling to know why that kind expression of sympathy flies all over me like the cheapest of suits

Why does it bother me so?

A friend tells me I think it trite

Another friend tells me I think it cliche

Will have to pray about that

Everyone says, “You’re in our thoughts and prayers”

That’s lovely, too, but, similarly, it kind of drives me crazy

A friend tells me I think it trite

A friend tells me I think it cliche

Will have to pray about that, too

But, I won’t send emoji prayer hands

That really drives me crazy

As I recently told the deceased closest’s relative, if anyone says, “It’s God’s will” or “God has a plan” then I’m available to throat punch those speakers

I am re-reading Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking for the umpteenth time

It’s such a powerful exploration of that land we all know and go to time and time again

Grief

“Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eye and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

Mrs. John Dunne got it right

We don’t

In her book, she writes a history of mourning.  We don’t mourn any more. We don’t offer broth and toast and quiet and stillness.  We don’t leave people alone for six months. We don’t say, “They’re in mourning.” A century ago, we all knew it meant not to bother them or invite them anywhere.  In mourning also meant that we knew as a society that they were going to be out of their minds for a while, crazed with grief

Our only nod to mourning, black or dark clothes worn to funerals

In the South, mourning used to be strictly observed e.g. Mrs. Wilkes in Gone With the Wind advising Cap’n Butler that Mrs. Hamilton will not dance as the family were still in mourning.  When Mrs. Hamilton accepts the dance, her aunt Pitty Pat faints in shock

Now, we say, “She’s handling it really well”

Now, we say, “He’s a rock”

Now, we say, “She’s keeping it together for the children”

Now, we say, “Oh, life goes on”

Does it?

Handling it?

She wants to scream her head off and tell you all to leave her alone

He wants you to know that he will never love anyone again

When there’s a death, we should just let the family be, and we should just be with the family

Just be

Just be

Sit

Hold a hand

Don’t engage in inane conversation, just be

In our age of constant entertainment and distraction, we think we should take the family on a vacation somewhere wonderful ASAP

“It will get their mind off it”

Why?

Why would they want to have their mind off their loved one?

They don’t

Ever

See, e.g., Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden, not repeated her because Auden’s Estate did not give me permission

As I write in every single condolence letter, if Jesus wept at the loss of a friend, then who are we to not?

Why do we need to move on?

How awful

As some of you know from an earlier missive, my Eighth Grade English teacher was the wife of the long time minister of the Baptist Church of Beaufort.  Mrs. Spears taught us many things, but, when a classmate’s father died, she took a group of us to the house. Before we arrived, Mrs. Spears told us to follow the lead of those closest to the deceased and let them talk.

“Just tell them you’re sorry,” said Mrs. Spears, “They’ll talk when they want to talk. If not, just stand or sit with them. They’re glad you’re there”

In the receiving line for another friend, I told her husband that I was just so sorry that she was gone

“Fifty plus years of marriage, and, now, just me”

“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say again and again as he talked

After a minute or two, he said, “I’ll miss that laugh”

“Oh, she had such a great sense of humor,” I responded. Then, I told a funny story about the deceased which the widower had forgotten

He beamed

“Thank you, Hamlin. She thought y’all were just wonnerful”

“We thought she was wonnerful, too”

The Victorians excelled at mourning and creating parkland graveyards

Be close to those who mourn

They shall be comforted

May be by you

Stand with them

Just stand with them

Put your arm around their shoulder

Hold their hand

Just be

Bring some food

Bring a cooler of ice

Bring your grandmama’s award winning pie

Bring a sad pound cake, and, if you know what that is, then you should totally bring one

Bring a casserole that can be frozen for later use

Bring a bag of paper products, including toilet paper

Bring prepared sandwiches

If you live in Charleston, call Miz Hamby’s for same

Don’t bring that slick ham platter from the grocery store deli department

Offer to help write the obituary

Offer to call anyone to spread the news

Bring flowers

I always bing cheese straws

I’m a one trick pony

Years ago, when someone died at home, a friend’s mother was overheard talking to the local florist, “Yes, that would be fine but nothing funerally like glads or carnations, hear?”

No glads

No carnations

No sprays with a toy telephone that says, “He Called.”

That is a real arrangement that I’ve seen with my own two eyes

Add the deceased and the family to the prayer list

Write the family a note on your stationery, which, I hope you have purchased from Arzberger’s in Charlotte, NC

When my sister-in-law died in 2014, the most wonderful note we revived was the most simple

Dear MP, Hamlin, Margaret, and Perrin

I am so sorry. There are no words. None. I love you all

That was it

Impactful

Perfection

Elegant

In four months, when no one is knocking on the widow’s door or asking the children how they’re doing, or telling the widower that they’ll check on him, or remembering to call, take them supper, talk about the loved one, ask them to coffee, tell them how much you, too, missed the deceased

Let the tears flow

For the family, it will soon be as still as the Wragg Mausoleum

In those quiet moments months from now, when they can’t sleep, when they hear a song that reminds them of the deceased, they need friends

We should bring back mourning, complete with black arm bands and heavy crepe

Instead, we will say

“They’re holding up so well”

“They’re so brave”

I have heard dear friends, people whom I adore, say “Well, she never got over his death”

Nor should she

Nor should he

Nor should we

We don’t do death well anymore

We need to mourn

 

The Yankee

 

From 1959 until 1985, The Yankee Tavern occupied almost a full city block on Boundary Street in Beaufort, South Carolina

A dive

A greasy spoon

A hole in the wall

Good food

Fair prices

Ice cold beer

Not that I was ever old enough to have one there

img_9409
Not even the sign remains.  Photo by Billy Palmer

 

Pearl and Manny Palmer were tough New Jersey folks who opened a restaurant in downtown Beaufort in a one-story cinder block building with a brick facade.

They were damned Yankees

The kind we Southern kids know who come South and stay

I loved them

The Yankee had two entries, one on Boundary Street and one on the side facing Newcastle Street

Everyone entered from Newcastle Street

A long bar

Pool tables

Dim lighting

Cigarette haze

Pin ball machines

Bathrooms in the back corner that could have used a little bleach

Manny was the impresario in a white t-shirt

Sometimes that t-shirt had the Playboy bunny on it

Think of Mel of Mel’s Diner fame from the t.v. show Alice but with a Joisey accent and a lot cooler than Mel

Pearl was the enforcer with a tight perm, short fuse, dangling cigarette

Everyone in Beaufort went there

I mean everyone

Politicians

Shrimpers

Doctors

Lawyers

Businessmen

Families with small children

Singles looking for a good time

Marines from Parris Island and the Air Station

Young people playing pool

Movie stars filming either The Great Santini or The Big Chill

Migrant workers in town to pick tomatoes during the tomato harvest season in the summer

The one demographic not represented were ladies who lunch, but they would come in with their husbands at night or on the weekend

The late Hedy Williams used to drape a paper napkin over the seat before she sat on any of the  naugahyde cushioned metal framed chairs, most of which had a tear or two in them

No one gave her a second look

A local attorney ate there so often for lunch that they named a sandwich after him.  I can’t remember what was on The Bruce, but I know it was on the menu forever

Their soup was Damn Good Chowder

Our father would take us there on Saturday mornings to sit at the bar and eat breakfast while watching cartoons

There were always fathers and children at the The Yankee on Saturday mornings

You know who you are and were

Bill Bowden, the Palmers’ most trusted employee, would emerge from the back and ask if we wanted him to turn the channel while confirming our standing order of pancakes drowning in syrup with a side of bacon cooked on the griddle.  It was he who made sure the cooks put M&M’s in our pancakes if we asked.

Bill, as we called him, was a gentle giant.  He cleaned, mopped, bussed tables, wiped down the bar, all while clad in bib overalls.  He never stopped moving

We lived five minutes from The Yankee

My parents would order takeout from there, and it would be at our house in no time

What a treat to see the foil wrapped package of perfectly fried mushrooms with a small plastic container of ranch dressing in which to dip those battered fungi

The motto at The Yankee: “The Customer is Never Right”

But, the customer was always right at The Yankee

When the drinking age was 18, young folks in town would go to The Yankee to shoot pool, drink beer, and smoke cigarettes.

One evening, a group of teens, may be some of legal drinking age, may be some not, cavorted around a pool table. Some were barefooted.  Anyway, they got too rowdy and Pearl told them to leave

They refused

Systematically, Pearl began to smash beer bottles on the hard concrete slab floor of her own establishment

The teens hightailed it before they had to walk across broken glass in bare feet

I’m sure Pearl had Bill sweep it up as she moved on to the next issue

Older locals told us the story that The Yankee stayed open during Hurricane Gracie.  Manny and Pearl kept serving food and drinks in ankle deep water

Pearl was quoted in the Beaufort Gazette saying, “It was a riot!”

We took tennis lessons from a man named Ben Owens at the municipal tennis courts about a block away from The Yankee.  It being the late 70’s and early 80’s, Ben smoked like a chimney as he taught us to be the next Bjorn Borgs and Tracy Austins

Often, Ben would have us drill or play practice games and say in his Winston Light graveled accent, “Y’all keep practicing. I’ll be right back.”

We all knew that Ben was walking down Boundary Street to The Yankee for a cold beer

We introduced Blythe Danner and her husband Bruce Paltrow to The Yankee

They loved it

The night The Great Santini premiered in Beaufort, my father took the Paltrow children, including a future Oscar winner, her brother, my brothers, our dear pal Hugh Patrick, and me to The Yankee for pizza.  All of our parents had a premier to attend!

We all jumped on the tables, ran around the place, made a bunch of noise

Our favorite game at The Yankee was jumping form chair to chair, table to table

We did it all the time

We taught the Paltrow children the art of behaving badly in The Yankee

While we were standing on the tables, Pearl yelled at us across the joint, “Hey, sit down, kids!”

The future Oscar winner looked at us and said, “Who’s that mean old lady?”

My reply, “That’s no lady. That’s just Pearl!”

We sat down

We saw said Oscar winner last year; she asked if The Yankee was still in business

When I told her it closed in the mid-80’s, she sighed and said, “Oh, that’s too bad. Remember the lady who yelled at us?”

Of course, GP

I will never forget her or her husband

Those of us lucky enough to have gone there know it occupies a big place in our hearts

For years after it closed, we would see folks who worked there

They and we would say “I haven’t seen you since The Yankee”

It was a place and time none could replicate

None

 

I think Heaven will be a lot like The Yankee

Full of all types of people

All glad to see you

No judgment

Fair dealings

A place to never leave

Great food and drink

Full of laughter

So much laughter

While all are under the watchful eye of an owner who may have to pull you up short a time or two

So, all you fans of The Yankee, if you get to Heaven before me and see Bill, please tell him that Hambone wants to know if he can to turn the t.v. to Bugs Bunny

I’m sure he’ll say yes

 

 

 

Shrimp and Enough Already

Enough

Enough already

Stop

Quit

Leave it alone

Really

Stop

About what am I speaking?

That most representative dish of Lowcountry cooking

Shrimp and grits

Shrimp and hominy

Breakfast shrimp

Shrimp gravy

It’s not hard

It’s not complicated

But, for the love of all that is, chefs from Key West to Campobello, from Charleston to Los Angeles, from Seattle to Jacksonville, from New Orleans to Detroit and everywhere in between have to mess with it time and time and time again

A chef in Asheville, North Carolina, espoused her creative use of foraged bounty in making her version

Foraged?

In the mountains?

Who eats seafood in Asheville?

Mountain trout?

Yes

Shrimp?

No

Just quit

In glossy food magazines, there are paeans to plates of muddled messes of shrimp cooked with olive oil, garlic, tasso, mushrooms, red pepper, sherry vinegar, jalapeno peppers

It ain’t right

Growing up, the now highly exalted Shrimp and Grits were simply, well, breakfast on the weekend or supper on nights when moms were too tired to make much else

It’s easy fare

Peeling the shrimp is the hardest part

On weekends at our fish camp on Pritchard’s Island, the dads would saute a chopped onion, may be a diced bell pepper, in butter or a little bacon grease, they would throw in some Worcestershire sauce, perhaps a bit of sausage, may be make a roux, may be not,  and then they’d add some water to make a fairly thin and wan colored gravy.  Lastly, they would cook shrimp in the sauce, then sprinkle it with bacon

Definitely not Instagramable

The Junior League of Charleston’s venerable old Charleston Receipts has “Breakfast Shrimp” by Mrs. Ben Scott Whaley (Emily Fishburne), late of Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden fame.  Her version is almost the one I grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s.  She adds a little ketchup.

Mrs. Whaley advised serving breakfast shrimp “with hominy”

I’m sure her hominy was simple boiled grits. No heavy cream and chicken stock to be found. Just water, salt, and grits.

In the heading of the section with her receipt there’s an explanation called “Shrimp for Breakfast.” The editors of the cookbook wrote that shrimp have long been a breakfast favorite in the coastal region.

Good enough remains good enough

No mousselline sauces

No beurre blancs

No oyster mushrooms

No sugar

No tomatoes

No stock made with shrimp heads

No diced green onion garnishment

Just simplicity on a plate on a Saturday morning

That’s what we knew

Beaufort’s own Larry Taylor, who cooked at the Beaufort Yacht Club and his now shuttered restaurant, L.T.’s, made the absolute best shrimp gravy

My mother would order from him and take him containers to fill with that velvety goodness to be reheated slowly in a pot and served with hominy.  He put cooked sausage in his. There was nothing fancy about it, though

I get that chefs want to…

…wait for it…

…my least favorite expression which is overused by everyone in the culinary world…

…wait for it…

…you can’t un-hear it once you hear it…

…wait for it…

…riff on the classics

Stop it

Really

Stop it

Last year, at this amazing party weekend, a friend who lives in Denver of all places challenged me to a shrimp and grits cook off.

She said that she would crush me

Dahlin, where you get your shrimp in the Mile High City in the middle of the country?

Bless your heart, Sweet Pea

She will probably add ghee and lemon juice and parsley and cheddar cheese to her version which would most likely derive from Brooklyn’s own Bobby Flay or Long Island’s Ina Garten.  She will probably roast the shrimp in a convection oven or something else amazing

 

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They don’t got these in Denver

 

My version will be so simple and will highlight the fine creek shrimp we get around here, especially in late summer

I have a great pal who is a damned fine cook.  Recently we were all together, and he said he was going to make shrimp for breakfast to go with his grits. No, he didn’t call it shrimp and grits.  He just said he was making shrimp for the grits.  He’s an umpteenth generation local.  He knows the deal

All he did was melt some butter, add the shrimp and saute, add a little salt and pepper and a bop of Worcestershire at the end.  He crumbled a little cooked bacon over and spooned over warm hominy.  Perfection.  Not a hint of fish stock or andouille sausage, which is from New Orleans and not from South Carolina

Here’s what I make when the shrimp are running

I don’t charge $25.00 a plate, either

Again, really, just stop with the silliness and make you some true Lowcountry shrimp and grits, shrimp and hominy, shrimp gravy, breakfast shrimp

It’s the real deal

 

Shrimp Gravy

1/2 stick butter, salted, unsalted, it does not matter

1 small yellow onion, diced small

1 small green pepper, diced small (optional)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

A dash of hot sauce

1/4 c. flour

1 cup water

2 lbs shrimp, peeled, devein if you wish, but I don’t bother

5 slices bacon, cooked crisp, crumbled, reserved

Cooked grits

Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the vegetables. Add salt and pepper and saute until the vegetables are soft.  Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce.  Add in the flour and cook for 1-2 mins to get the raw taste out and then add the water and make into a smooth sauce, using a whisk.  Bring to a boil slowly. It will thicken once it boils. If it gets too thick, add more water.  Once the desired consistency, add the shrimp and cook until shrimp are pink. The water in the shrimp will thin out the gravy.  Do not overcook the shrimp.  About 3 minutes is all it takes to cook the shrimp through. This is a super fast receipt.  You can cook it and then let it sit.  Add some more water if you want to reheat it that way

Serve the shrimp gravy over the grits and garnish with crumbled bacon

Don’t garnish with lemon juice, or parsley, or sous vided anything

It doesn’t have a hint of pretension, though, and truly represents that simple dish now highly exalted in fancy kitchens around the world

As Dorothy Parker was fond of saying, “An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure”

This is no manure

Bring back the humble hominy of my youth

Really

Just stop it, Chefs

Stop it

Enough already

 

Happy Campers

I loved Camp

Camp High Rocks in Cedar Mountain, North Carolina

My wife loved Camp

Camp Greystone in Tuxedo, North Carolina

The mountains and hills around Flat Rock, Hendersonville, Brevard, Asheville, Cashiers, are full of camps

Once and former spend the night camps for youth include and included:

High Rocks, Greystone, Carolina, Keystone, Green Cove, Mondamin,  Greenville, Ton-A-Wandah, Rockbrook, Kanuga, Illahee, Green River Preserve, Merrie-Wood, Merri Mac, Blue Star, Rockmont, Arrowhead, Pinnacle, Cheerio, Gwynn Valley,  Falling Creek, Ridgecrest, Deep Woods, Bonclarken, Lutheridge, Wayfarer, Glen Arden, Hollymont

Each has its own loyal following

Some attached to certain religious denominations

Some non-religious

Spend the night camp isn’t cheap.  Children of privilege fill the bunks. They have a leg up by virtue of their ability to attend such wonderful places.  I know that I would have never considered going to boarding school had I not had such a wonderful camp experience in Western North Carolina.

Had I not gone to camp for years, I would not be writing all of this down for your reading pleasure

I went to High Rocks because boys from Beaufort went there

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Locked and loaded

My wife went to Greystone because she had friends there

My girls have been attending Greystone for the last nine (9) years

Our eldest aged out two summers ago by her own volition

Our youngest is on her fifth summer and will probably go until they tell her she’s too old

Greystone is in her 100th Summer

It’s kind of amazing all that happens there

It gets a bad wrap as being the country club of the camps of North Carolina.  We did spy a famous country artist at Opening Day this year.  I attended camp with the children of the famous, too.  It’s no big deal. But, again, there is an element of privilege and familiarity that these children have that non-campers don’t have by virtue of attendance.

We are wild about Greystone. It’s a place where Jesus comes first, and everything else is secondary.  Really.  The directors’ family has been focused on the Christian aspect of camp for five generations. The founder was an ordained minister who wanted girls to have the same experience as boys, enjoying God’s creation as a form of worship

Opening Day is our Christmas in June

For almost a decade we have had the same experience for the Opening Day at Greystone

The Sunday before, we load up the stuffed trunk, the laundry bag, the toiletries, the bunk decorations early in the morning.  We then hightail it up I26 to Little Charleston in the Mountains a/k/a Flat Rock

Our ears pop as we climb up the Saluda Grade just over the border in North Carolina

Our ears pop again as we hurtle down into the Green River gorge

We always take the Saluda Exit and mosey through downtown Saluda where Mr. Pace’s store stands strong

We head on over to Lake Summit and drive around that damned river water to spy the lake that borders Greystone, Mondamin, and Green Cove

That’s where it first hits: the North Carolina mountain smell.  If green had a smell, this would be it all fecund with new growth and earth and the slightest tinge of mildew.  Any of you who have been to the North Carolina mountains know that smell

I love it

We circle to the north side of the Lake and pass the main entrance to Greystone and Apple Tree Hill.  From there we go straight into Flat Rock

That summer retreat was named Little Charleston in the Mountains due to the sheer number of Lowcoutnry folks who migrated there in the summer. They still migrate there in droves. America’s poet, Carl Sandburg lived at Conmerra, a house built by the Memminger family

We usually eat at the Village Bakery and always run into someone we know

Our beloved former Charleston neighbors moved to Flat Rock five years ago (See? Charleston people LOVE Flat Rock).  We always get in a good visit with them every year

We take a turn on Main Street, Hendersonville, after our visit with our neighbors. The Mast Store. Kilwins. The old trips to the The Fountainhead Bookstore were epic. We miss that place.  Local bookstores continue to head the way of the Dodo. Yet, there’s that Antique Mall that never goes anywhere and never seems to ring up any sales. We wonder how it stays in bidness

On the way back to Flat Rock we stop at The Fresh Market for snacks.  I call it the Cocktail Party Store.  Plenty of items for cocktails but no real groceries.

For years, we have stayed at the Highland Lake Inn.  Our favorite rooms are in old camp cabins as that Inn on Highland Lake used to be an old Roman Catholic summer camp, the only vestige of which is a statue of the Virgin Mary watching over one of the fields

We have a good friend whose parents, from Charleston, met as camp counselors at Highland Lake.  See what I mean about Charleston and Flat Rock?

I always take a walk down to the lake to look at the lily pads and reflection of evergreens in the water.  We hear the shrill call of the resident albino peacock

 

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I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help

 

We’ve gone swimming in the lake and in the pool.

We have stayed at Highland Lake in past years with all manner of camp drop off friends.

Our girls love the swings on the old oak tree

 

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“Push me, Dad!”

 

There are rope hammocks for reading.

Lightning bugs come out at twilight

We often have cocktails on the porch of the cabin

This year, our pal Stephen Gaddy requisitioned our ironing board to set up as the buffet table for cocktail hour

Every year, we walk over to suppers at Seasons at Highland Lake.  We have broken bread there with the Gaddys, the Allens, the Davises, the Lucases, the Givens, and other Charleston Greystone families.

We log an early bed time and set the alarm

Much like Christmas Eve as a child, I cannot sleep. I wake every hour. I am in the shower  by 6:00 a.m.

Highland Lake serves a hearty buffet breakfast right at 6:30 a.m.

We leave for Camp by 7:15

No later

We arrive at the back gate, the staff entrance, along with the hundreds of other SUVS loaded with trunks, bags, crates, pillows, stuffed animals, upholstered “husbands”, lap desks, posters, fans, bedding

Greystone has it down to a science

The counselors greet the car, ask the child’s name, slap a sticker with her cabin on her shirt, and tag the trunks and the cabin.  From there, a legion of young folks load trunks and bags into carts to go up the hill to be unloaded and delivered to cabins for the next three hours.  We arrive early to ensure the trunks and bags are on the porch of the cabin by 8:30 a.m. when the tape drops and the girls run up the hill

 

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7:31 a.m., June 3, 2019

 

In past years, there was an actual bunk run where girls would stampede to get to their assigned cabins to get a bed.  There were fewer deaths on the bunk run than in Pamplona, but it was pretty chaotic.

There was always a trampled lovey left in the dewey grass

The Camp changed that policy a couple years ago, but the girls still run as soon as the 8:30 bell rings

Bunks are now assigned and counselors stand ready to greet their charges

We arrive and make the beds

Our pal from Atlanta, Land Bridgers, taught me a great trick about making bunks.  Take the mattress off the bunk and make it fully on the floor of the yet to be soiled cabin.  Make said mattress. Then, lift and tuck it right back into place

This year, as I made the bed, I said, “Time for the Land Bridgers’ maneuver”

It should be taught to all camp parents

We put towels in bathrooms, arrange shoes on porches, unload clothes, dance around with other parents calling out questions to their campers

 

 

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Bed made, pictures taped to the wall, ready to make it a GR8 Day

 

We head over to the welcome reception on the porch of the Dining Hall with fresh baked scones, coffee, water, and an almunae table with stickers marking decades, the number of generations, and gifts for those returning.

Every year, we run into someone we know on the dining hall porch, waiting for the bunk run, unloading the trunk

My friend from Beaufort, Chandler Bailey, who now lives in Birmingham, has a theory that you could connect every college educated person in the South if you could interview all the parents dropping off at Greystone or its former brother camp, Falling Creek

He has a valid point

 

img_9271
Prius? What’s a Prius?

 

Our youngest returns to Greystone with other Charleston girls who go but who don’t bunk together.  This year they have decided to take at least one activity/class together

Our eldest and her best friend always requested each other as cabin mates for years

There’s only been one year with a bad counselor

Not all sweetness and light, she played favorites and did not live by the Camp’s ethos

She was not invited back the following year

The place improves itself yearly and takes criticism to heart

But, it can be kind of overwhelming for the uninitiated and kind of intimidating for new campers where everyone else seems to know everyone else

This year, we received our daughter’s schedule via a PDF emailed to us after the first full day

No kidding

The traditional summer camp activities reign

Riflery

Archery

Canoeing

Kayaking

Sailing

Swimming

Hiking

Horse back riding

Ceramics

All manner of sports

Fishing

Ropes courses

Over night camp outs

 

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You are like the clay in the potter’s hands, and I am the potter.  Jeremiah 18:6

There are talent shows, evening programs, big events, including an end of session banquet with a theme.  We hear that there are fireworks this year to celebrate the 100th Season

Oh, and it takes about two years to get in off the waiting list…really…at least two

Once you’re in the system as a family, though, you’re in forever

We try to write a letter a day or at least send an email

The camp does a great job communicating with parents

The counselors do make the children write their parents

We could hire a full time assistant to cull the pictures posted on the Camp’s website to find our daughters

The best letter we ever received from camp was written by our youngest. It read as follows:

 Dear Mom and Dad:

I don’t miss you. I love it here. The food 

Love, P

I think she meant she loved the food

Last year on Fathers Day, I received a missive that said she didn’t miss me as she was “somewhere better right now”

It’s worth every penny just for that

Several years back, the camp shared a video of all the girls gathered in The Pavilion for Vespers.  To the sounds of a lone guitar strumming and a lead from one of the Camp’s counselors, those assembled softly sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.  As they sang, they deliberately and reverently passed on the flame of lit of candles from one camper to the other.  By the time they begged God to take their hearts and seal them for His courts above, well, I couldn’t even look at the screen as they finished that melodious sonnet

Even though we pay for this privilege, it warmed the cockles of my heart, which is a direct quote from the Greystone songbook.

And, so to the Miller/Hanna/Sevier Family, we give you  all our thanks and appreciation for 100 years of Witness and Faithfulness to our girls and young women.

Thank y’all for making 36,500 GR8 Days

 

 

Unflippingconditional

 

Recently, I had the displeasure of attending an old friend’s funeral in Beaufort

It’s all I do

The only upside of that experience was the distinct pleasure I had of spending three hours in the car with my truly ancient friend Sydney Meeks Fowler

a/k/a Syd, Schneidah, Sweet Meeks, Syd-arth-thra

We have known each other forever

Our fathers were in the Marine Corps together.  Our families have been friends for four generations.  We went to school together in Beaufort, Chapel Hill, Columbia

Our eldest was the flower girl at her wedding

I’ve written about Syd and her family in the past

Some of our oldest and dearest

We’ve been through a lot together

I mean

A

LOT

I used to have a picture of me and Syd on the steps of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, circa 1989. Thirty damn years ago. A great shot of us in front of the Franciscan facade.  Halcyon youth blithely unaware of the journey ahead.  Skinny.  Tan. Probably mildly hungover from cheap Italian wine.

Our traveling together has been literal and figurative for over forty years

This kid. Sydney. Wedding party brunch in Beaufort, SC. 1999. I still wear that belt buckle.

Anyway, after the funeral in Beaufort and our ride up Highway 17, Syd came back to our house for a restorative cocktail

As one must

Porch sitting

My favorite competitive sport

The next morning, I awoke and thought of the following:

In the movie Crocodile Dundee, someone is explaining what a shrink does to that fish out of water in the urban jungle of NYC.

The Croc asks, “Well, don’t they have any mates?”

And, that’s just it

Syd is our mate

Always has been

Always will be

Sorry

Stuck with us

Stuck by us

We have been through a lot together

I mean

A

LOT

In three hours in the car with Sydney, there were

gut busting laughs

moments of quiet reflection

therapy sessions

news

critiques

roasts of friends and family

tears of laughter

tears of tears

updates on our families

retellings of shared history

revelations about other friends

knowing approvals

archaic references

acidic tongues wagging

Really, my side hurt, though, after so much laughter

At one point, I had to tell Syd to be quiet as I was going to have a major accident due to mirth induced incontinence

I really almost wet my pants

The only thing missing from the ride up and down Highway 17 through the Lowcountry were a few others who would have totally been in on the jokes, the shared history, the disdain and, most importantly, the unconditional love

Unflippingconditional

You know who you are

We missed you being with us

We ran by my parents house on North Street for a bit and it was like two standup comedians had crossed the threshold

My parents never quit laughing at us and with us

My mother said, “Oh, you two are so irreverent.”

Duh

Arriving at the church for the funeral, one of the greeters, who has known the deceased and us forever realized Syd and I had ridden down together

The greeter looked at us and said facetiously, “Oh, I’m sorry for you two. That ride was probably really boring. No fun. Y’all didn’t talk about anyone.  There was probably no laughter.  Really solemn.”

Then that lovely Lowcountry lady said, “Man, I’d have loved to have been in the car with y’all”

One of the ones who would have been in on the jokes

After the funeral, we ran by Syd’s mother’s house

Again, the traveling comedy troupe caused some laughter over on New Street

As we departed from her mother, Lila Meeks looked at us and said, “I challenge y’all to not talk about anyone on the ride back to Charleston and discuss something lofty”

We failed miserably

Instead, we debriefed and debrided

The radio never played

It wasn’t just constant talk to be talking to fill an awkward void

As the kids say, shit got real

I hope you all have some mates

Especially like Sydney