“Youth is wasted on the young” George Bernard Shaw
Eleventh graders around the country read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
They should not
They are too young to know the true meaning of pining for the green light across the water
They have not lived enough to know that we truly do beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Hear the sound of the water lapping against the gunwale?
They have not lived enough to know careless people like Daisy and Tom Buchanan who, to quote Fitzgerald, smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.
They have not seen the studied ennui of Jordan Baker crafted as mask and persona
They have not been buffeted by time enough to know the sadness of Owl Eyes crying out to Nick Carraway, “They used to go there by the hundreds”
They don’t hear their own voices that may, like Daisy’s, be full of money
They don’t know the desperation of Myrtle Wilson
They have no point of reference to understand that there are, indeed, men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything after savors of anti-climax
All of this assumes that you, Dear Reader, have read The Great Gatsby
I read the Jazz Age masterpiece in the 11th Grade, like most high school students
I read it while the biggest problem of the day was how to sneak that bottle of vodka into the dorm to mix with orange Fanta
Or wondering if we would be sober enough to get back to the bus in Boston for the last return to campus
The book should have been seared into my conscience at the time
I have memories of the 1974 film of same name, which they made us watch in class one day
The gauzy lenses
I have re-read the book in each decade of life since
In my twenties, it felt a little more familiar
In my thirties, I recognized myself and the broken world watched over by those creepy eyes in the valley of ashes
In my forties, I weep
Every time I read it
Cry like a baby
Unable to breathe
Like Nick, not everyone has had the advantages I have had. Really. They haven’t
But everyone has had the losses
Things not going according to plan
Not being able to see those we love as much as we would like
Only realizing it when standing at a funeral beside other mourners
On the last page, as Nick concludes that we beat on and yet are borne ceaselessly back into the past, my eyes mist over and tears flow freely
Despair for all that has gone and will never be again
Why they teach this tragedy to teenagers is beyond me
My first job after Law School was serving as a law clerk to the Honorable Jackson V. Gregory, Judge of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina. That Circuit encompasses Beaufort, Colleton, Jasper, Hampton, and Allendale Counties. It’s pure Lowcountry. Circuit Court judges travel throughout South Carolina hearing civil and criminal matters. We traveled all over the state.
Judge Gregory offered me a clerkship in July of 1997, a full month before our third year of Law School. I was that most obnoxious of 3L’s, one with a job waiting prior to graduation.
I clerked with Judge Gregory from August 10, 1998, to August 6, 1999.
In that year, I got married, bought a house, and learned a lot from the Judge.
He died on April 24, 2019, much too soon
Below are the words I read at his memorial service on April 29, 2019
It was a beautiful day by the river in Beaufort
He’d have loved it
Thank you, Your Honor, for taking a chance on me twenty years ago.
For Jack Gregory:
Don’t do crack with Jack
We were in trial in Allendale, South Carolina
A town which had seen its better days
The main industry in Allendale back then was drugs; it still may be.
On trial that week was a defendant charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute a large of amount of cocaine in crack form
Court was held at the old Allendale Municipal Court since someone had burned down the Allendale County Courthouse as retribution for another judge’s heavy sentencing
Judge Gregory, the Court Reporter, Annette Mole, and I decided that we would all go to lunch together at the Village Inn, which was a great old Southern buffet in Allendale
Judge Gregory loved their vegetables
The Clerk of Court, not having access to a safe, asked that we take the main evidence with us, which was a plastic bag, marked State’s Exhibit 1, containing several crack rocks the size of Ritz crackers with us since she, the Clerk, had no way to make sure the crack stayed in the courtroom. It being Allendale, it probably would not have. At night, the police would take it back to the safe in the Clerk’s temporary office in a trailer in Allendale. You can’t make this up.
So, Judge Gregory looked at me and said, “Hamlin, grab that crack and let’s go to lunch.”
Annette Mole, whom we love, said, “Oh, Judge, I don’t think Hamlin can do that…isn’t possession of it a crime?”
Judge Gregory replied, “Well, guess we’ll all go to jail then,” and we laughed and went to lunch.
Judge Gregory, not wanting to be conspicuous, was the only Judge in the state who did not have a vanity tag identifying himself as a Circuit Court Judge.
Well, as luck would have it, he got pulled on the way to lunch after blowing through a stop sign.
The days of Allendale being a speed trap weren’t over yet back in 1998.
So, the cop walks up to the window, and, there, before God and everyone on the dash board is a bag of crack cocaine for all the world to see in the State’s Exhibit 1 bag
“Sir, is that what I think it is?” asked the officer
“State’s Exhibit 1, is what it is,” replied the judge
“Do you work for the Solicitor’s office?” asked the cop
“No, I’m the sitting judge, this is my law clerk, and this is our court reporter, you can call the Clerk’s office to verify.”
“I believe you,” said the cop, “No one but a Judge would be so stupid as to have a bag of crack rock sitting on his dashboard in Allendale”
We then went to lunch with a police escort. He told us to lock the crack in the glove compartment while we ate and the policeman stood guard.
Whitney was right, “Crack is whack”
I’ll Sleep on It
Judge Gregory heard a lot of motions, as do most judges. As he would always say, “To my mind,” he was really big on “to my mind”, but “To my mind, I don’t have to be right, I just have to rule.”
During a super long motions hearing where both sides where arguing really fine points of law in a case about insurance coverages related to a multi-car carwreck where some of the folks where uninsured, underinsured, and some in jail, and some in the country illegally, one of the lawyers, who happened to be a female attorney, was totally winning the arguments. She knew her stuff. She had it down. The lawyers on the other side, all of whom were generally Plaintiffs lawyer types who didn’t do a lot of coverage work, were really blowing it.
Judge Gregory said he needed a break
We went back into the hallway of the Beaufort County Courthouse and he told me that he was going to most likely rule in favor of the lady. But, he said, he would take it under advisement so as to not embarrass the other lawyers, most of whom had brought their clients along with him
We went back into the Courtroom, and there were a few more minutes of arguments
The lady lawyer was the last to speak
Judge Gregory looked at her and said, “Thank you Miz So and So. I’ll take that under advisement and sleep with you tonight”
At first there was silence in the courtroom
Then, I started laughing
Then, the lady started laughing
Then, Judge Gregory turned beet red and said, “I’ll sleep on it…I’ll sleep on it….”
Lewd and Unpronounceable
During my clerkship, Judge Gregory and I were assigned to six months in the Capital City. Judge Henry McKellar let us his office.
Most of the terms of Court we had in Columbia were criminal terms.
The worst case we had involved criminal sexual violence against a minor. The defendant was the child’s father. There was conflicting testimony about who could be believed. The child’s mother and father had gone through a horrible divorce and conflicting experts took the stand to discuss the minor’s authenticity. One said she was telling the truth. The other said she wasn’t. One doctor took the stand to say there had been abuse. One doctor took the stand to say that there wasn’t.
Beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard
Judge Gregory had me type up all of the jury charges and get them approved by the Solicitor’s office and by the Defendant’s counsel, who was represented by I.S. Leevy Johnson, who was, and is, and old friend of the Judge’s and my father’s.
Part of the charges had the term “lewd and lascivious” in several places.
Every time the judge read that term, he would botch the pronunciation “lewd and lash a viscious” or “loud and laskenvious” or “lute and luscious”
It was horrible
I think he had a mental block as the case was just that bad
After his last “Lou and lashless”, one of the Juror’s stood up in the jury box and said, “It’s lewd and lascivious, Your Honor”
Judge Gregory, turning red, said, “Why yes it is, Ma’am, yes it is, but that’s for you to determine, not me, because I can’t even pronounce it”
During my clerkship, I was engaged, there was a wedding coming up, there was a house to buy
Judge Gregory would give me extra time off and allow me to take off some afternoons when we weren’t busy.
I’ll always be grateful
I’m a fairly collegial lawyer, because, as the Judge would say, “You don’t want other lawyers to hate you. You’re going to have to work with them a long time.”
At our wedding reception, the judge came up to me and said that he’d never seen a cooler groom, a more collected groom
In my 20 years of practice, I’ve never seen a cooler judge
I’ve never seen a more collected judge
I only saw him get mad once, at a pro se plaintiff who threatened bodily harm to opposing counsel and his opponent
I would see him in the grocery store in Beaufort, at parties from time to time, and it was like NO time had passed.
We would discuss my family, his girls and their families, his undying love of the Democrat party, with generally no comment from me
We always left hoping that we would see each other soon
So, see you soon Your Honor
And, as you said at the end of each term, Court is adjourned, sine die.
P.S. Erin Dean, a damned fine trial lawyer herself, and one of Judge Gregory’s former clerks also spoke in remembrance of the Judge. Here is what she shared. Good advice all around.
[On April 29, 2019], I had the privilege of speaking at Judge Jackson V. Gregory’s memorial service. I was Judge Gregory’s second law clerk (‘92-‘94) and he taught me more than just the law. As requested, here are the”Top Ten Things I Learned from Judge Gregory”. Good advice for lawyers and humans!
1. Be humble 2. Be respectful of others, no matter their tone 3. Never pass up an opportunity for a Meat & 3
4. You learn more by listening than you ever do by talking
5. The Clerk’s office staff and Courtroom Bailiffs are your best friends
6. It’s ok to change your mind
7. It’s also ok to admit you’re wrong (still working on that one)
8. Lawyers are public servants, no matter who you work for or where you work, your job is to serve the public
9. Be kind, always…and if you can’t be kind, be quiet
10. The best words uttered in a Courtroom are sine die, signifying the Court term is over and you can head to play golf or go to the beach!
Judge Gregory was one of a kind and his absence in our community will be deeply felt. Rest In Peace my mentor and friend!
Erin Dean, April 29, 2019, repeated here with her permission.
Over Presidents’ Day Weekend, we trudged on up to the Vale of Humility to tour some colleges with our girls.
As one does with 11th graders in the house
Winter break indeed
Drive to Chapel Hill
Getting colder and colder
Rainy and windy
Lunch stop at Smithfield BBQ in Fuquay Varina around 12:30 just in time for the church crowd
Sunday dinnah for a lot of these folks
“I got us this here table”
“Jackson, go warsh your hands, Son”
“Tell your Diddy, I need some hep”
“How you coming along?”
“Good, Granddaddy’s living with us now. He’s 88 and don’t get around too good”
“Used to be a field tech at the John Deere, you know”
“Glad this Brunswick Stew is two for a dollah”
God, how I love North Carolina
For years, the Sandlappers of South Carolina and the Cavaliers of Virginia have called the Old North State the Vale of Humility between the two Mountains of Conceit. Not sure which of the three is being satirized more.
Then it’s on to the Streets at Southpoint
We will stop at a Nordstrom
Screeching stop at a Nordstrom
And a Barnes & Noble
And an Anthropologie
Get out of here and on to Chapel Hill
Venerable and vaulted at The Carolina Inn
So many cookies
Perfect room with sitting area
Go for a walk in the cold mist
Go to the Old Well
Pass the place where Silent Sam once stood
Not a shred of evidence he was ever there
As we tear down monuments, I am reminded of what David Sedaris said to the graduating class at Oberlin last May. Really. Oberlin. The height of political correctness:
“The goal is to have less in common with the Taliban, not more.”
Academia 2019: triggered all the time
Picking up the Daily Tar Heel
Read about more triggering
Pop into the Ackland Museum to escape the bone chilling weather
Amazing vine sculptures out front
Exhibit of Asian porcelain
So much Chinese Export that even David Sanctuary Howard himself might rise on up from the dead for a look see; love me some Lowestoft
Back to the Carolina Inn
Supper at the Carolina Inn
Man showing plumber’s bum across the restaurant
We keep laughing
Don’t do crack
Asleep by 9 p.m.
Sleep of the just
The just exhausted
Warm bed under down duvet
Southern Part of Heaven
Breakfast at Ye Old Waffle Shoppe on Franklin Street
Same since 1972
With cousin Hampton
Walk through campus
Run in the Wilson Library just for old time’s sake
To Student Stores for UNC Swag
Back to Carolina Inn to deposit said Swag
Information session in the Student Union
“How many of you are little brothers or sisters being dragged along?”
At least one hand goes up in our row
Tour with guide who was a bit, well, spastic
Super nerdy but so into UNC
“So, if we beat dook or win a big game, we all rush up onto Franklin Street…it’s pretty cool…so one year..it’s called rushing Franklin…..like last year…I was running to Franklin Street and it’s called Chapel HILL for a reason…cause it’s actually a hill…. and it’s all up hill…and I was running…but I slowed way down…and this kid looked at me and said…eye of the tiger…eye of the tiger…and I started running again….and that gave me that last burst of energy…and I made it….and I love the Tar Heels”
Way into Policy…Social Justice…and…South Campus
May be on the spectrum?
“So, my friend made this cutting board in the makers’ space lab in Venables and I totally saw it on Instagram and said ‘Whoa, I would totally pay like $50.00 for that’ and she wrote me back, ‘I made this in the makers’ space in Venables’ and I came and made a box, y’all, a real box”
Speaking of which, she boxed her own ears when she was excited
Hit the side of her head
Bless her heart
“Big interview on Wednesday….really really big”
Hope she got it
Standing near one building, I said, “The last time I saw this building, it was kind of a dump”
“What’s your connection to Chapel Hill?”
“I graduated in the Bicentennial class of 1994”
“Are you KIDDING?”
Boxed her ears
Boxed her ears
“That’s SO cool”
Boxed her ears
Finally, she ends the tour at the Old Well
“I just want you to know, that the line to drink from Old Well [guess she has something against articles] stretches forever on first day [no articles] of each semester because drinking from Old Well [again, she really despised articles] ensures you get A’s”
It actually doesn’t
I tried most semesters
Walk to Woollen Gym to meet new best friend Brian Chacos who shows the girls athletic facilities all while riding in his Carolina Blue and White golf cart
He works for the football crowd
Tour of the new weight room and secret access to Keenan Stadium
Really amazing athletics at Chapel Hill
Thanks, Hampton, for setting it up
Drives us in the golf cart all the way back to Franklin Street.
Ain’t y’all sumpin
To Sutton’s Drugstore for lunch
Pics of old favorite waitress, Jesse, on the wall
Stories of weekly lunches there at the same table
Stories of Jesse chasing shoplifter with scissors
“I’m gonna kill you!” she yelled as she ran at the perp
Walk to the Carolina Inn to get the car
On to Winston Salem
Stop off to look at Elon College
“Dad, I don’t think I want to go here.”
Really big red brick buildings with HUGE LETTERING
HUGE LETTERING IS EVERYWHERE THERE
LIKE THEY’RE SHOUTING
ALL THE TIME
Guess their students have bad eyesight
Turning right on N. O’Kelly Ave….should be O’Kelley…..
As we wait for the Good News of Easter Sunday, I give you a memory of Easter past, present, and future.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia.
The Holy Eucharist: Rite One I, The Word of God, Opening Sentences (To be said from Easter Day through the Day of Pentecost)
The Book of Common Prayer (1979)
My parents hosted a large friends group for Easter dinner for many years
All ages and stages of these dear friends whom we made into family
Their people are my people
We ate in the mid-afternoon after church
We had the same menu every year
Ham glazed with Dr. Peet’s pecan praline glaze – which deserves its own dissertation
More than one green vegetable of some sort
Biscuits from The Palms in Ridgeland, SC. See Palm Sunday, supra
Usually a seafood side dish because The Lowcountry
The Star of My Mother’s Buffet: Macaroni Pie
It’s what some refer to as macaroni and cheese
We call it macaroni pie
It’s super old fashioned to call it a pie
Back in the old days, anything baked was in a pie:
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Our group would be super excited for my mother’s macaroni pie, which receipt came from Potluck from Pawleys, the old cookbook from the long-gone Cassena Inn on the north end of Pawley’s Island.
This is in the Vegetable Section of Potluck from Pawleys
Most old Southern cookbooks place macaroni pie squarely in the vegetable section
Most Southerners consider macaroni pie to be a vegetable
It should be under Meats or Eggs and Cheese or Pasta
But it isn’t
The ladies at the Cassena Inn put it in the vegetable section, so I will, too
The Cassena had amazing food
I have a super early memory of staying there with my parents and grandparents without a lick of air conditioning
My grandmother’s cousin, Ruth Turner, owned the Cassena years and years ago. Then, Mrs. Hope and Mrs. Hiott. Then the Prioleau Family
The cookbook is by Mrs. Hope and Mrs. Hiott
This macaroni pie is their receipt
But, it’s really my mother’s at this point
It’s so good
Like SO damned good.
My mother-in-law asks me to make it for family gatherings
My mother always makes it for family gatherings
Mine is pretty good, but, really, my mother’s is much better
As a wedding present, my parents would often give the macaroni receipt to new brides along with a macaroni server in the couple’s silver pattern
We received a macaroni server when we got hitched
Stainless bowl that can’t be tarnished by the eggs in the macaroni.
Right here: Fairfax by Gorham
That was an awesome present
Years ago, my mother gave this receipt to a friend who called up after making it to ask what had been omitted as it couldn’t be the same as it wasn’t as good
I recently sent it to a friend who sent back pictures of an empty casserole dish and smiling sated faces
My mother just has been making it so long that she has the touch for it these days
She’s not stingy with the receipt
She’s not stingy with the mountains of grated cheddar cheese that go into the dish
This goes really well with ham and pretty much everything
This is a double making
Just divide in half for a single
You’ll never make another version. Promise
Serve it tomorrow with your ham or your lamb
Yancey O’Kelley’s Macaroni Pie
(or Potluck from Pawley’s Macaroni Pie)
16 oz. box macaroni noodles cooked according to package
1 lb. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated by hand
6 or 7 eggs, beaten
3 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
Pinch of sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter
Heat oven to 350
Grease a 9×13 casserole/pyrex dish really well. With butter. Not with Pam. Butter. Not with margarine. Butter. Not with olive oil. Butter. Not with vegetable oil. Butter. There’s a reason. The butter works on the edges of the pie. (See below)
Layer half of the cooked noodles in the bottom of the dish. Spread half the grated cheese over the layer of noodles. Repeat. I probably use more than a single LB of cheese.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, add the milk, salt and sugar, and, then, the melted butter which will solidify when it hits the cold egg and milk mixture, which is important. I use all 7 eggs. The original receipt says 3 or 4 eggs. More eggs makes it more custard like.
Slowly pour the milk and eggs over the cheese and noodles. You’ll end up with butter on top of everything. That’s the magic right there.
Bake in a 350 oven for 45 minutes. Often best to cook this on a rimmed baking sheet as it can bubble over and make a mess in the oven. If it gets too dark on the top, cover with foil.
Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving. It’s even better the next day, reheated in the same oven.
The crispy corners are my favorite and those one or two stray noodles on the top that can get a little char in the oven. The crispy outside comes from the butter used to grease the dish. Buttter liberally. That’s good advice for a lot of cooking. Butter liberally.
My mother made this for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any time anyone requested it in our family. She’ll be making it tomorrow. So will I.
If you ever make this kind of macaroni, you’ll never go back to chemically mass produced boxes of mac-n-cheese, which, frankly, may be the bane of my culinary existence
O who am I, that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh, and die?
Samuel Crossman, 1624-1683
It’s too much
It’s just absolutely too much
The Sunday of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ
All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer, King! to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
Theodulph of Orleans, 821
Ride on! ride on in majesty! Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry; thy humble beast pursues his road with palms and scattered garments strowed
Ride on! ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die; bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, thy power, and reign.
Henry Hart Milman, 1791-1868
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem
Christ commanding the disciples to bring the donkey and the colt
Many spread their cloaks on the road
Palms fronds waving in anticipation
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
Cleansing the Temple
Prayers and parables
Anointed with oil in the house of Simon the Leper
Mary, sister of Lazarus, let down her hair
The Last Supper in the Upper Room
One of you will betray me
One of you will deny me three times before the cock crows
This is my Body
This is my Blood
Do this in remembrance of me
Love one another as I have loved you
Then, it all turns
Agony in the Garden at Gethsemane
Let this cup pass
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak
Thirty pieces of silver
The kiss of Judas
The arrest of Jesus
Living by the sword and dying by the sword
Trial before the Sanhedrin
Suffered under Pontious Pilate
Pilate asking the crowd which man shall be freed
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Carrying His own Cross
And then they came to Golgatha
The place of the skull
Nailed to the tree
Between the two thieves
A crown of thorns
Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
Casting lots for His robes
Hours hanging on the hard wood
Arms outstretched for the love of the world
They pierced His side
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (Were you there?) Were you there when they crucified my Lord? O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble! Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Anon. African American Spiritual. 19th C.
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, that we to judge thee have in hate pretended? By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted!
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.
Johann Heermann, 1630, Herzliebster Jesu
Words from the Cross
“Look upon your Mother”
“Eli! Eli! Lama sabachthani?”
My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?
Then, Jesus cried again in a loud voice and gave up His spirit
It is finished
The earth quaked
Darkness covered the land
The veil torn asunder
The centurion exclaimed
Then the burial
The descent into hell
We, too, wait for the Good News
The men fled
The women returned to care for the body
They, and we, will be told by the angel, “Do not be afraid!”
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying by
“Sea Fever” by John Masefield
We LOVE the Florida Keys.
We just got back.
Third trip in four years.
When I was younger my father used to take me and my brothers all the way to Key West to fish. At one point, we ended up being closer to Cuba than to Key West. A plane flew over, and it wasn’t one of ours.
Buzzed by a MiG in international waters as we watched hallucinogenic colored dolphins swirling around our baits remains a talking point among my father, brothers, and me.
Buzzed is a good word for the Keys.
It’s crazy down there. In the best way.
I think every fourth person is in the federal witness protection program.
Three years ago, my intrepid bride decided we would go to the Keys for Spring Break with our faithful and now constant traveling companions, Anne Marie and Jimmy Hagood and their daughter, Catherine.
“You’ve been down there. You know what it’s like.”
“I haven’t been to the Keys since 1993.”
After a few phone calls to our pals, we decided we would hit up Islamorada with them. This Spring Breaks marks our fourth traveling with them. We’d go almost anywhere with Anne Marie, Jimmy, and their daughter Catherine. Really. Anywhere.
Any two families that can handle over twenty hours in a car together, well, ’nuff said.
Anne Marie and Jimmy had stayed at The Islander, a Guy Harvey Outpost, the year before and told us all about it. Count us in!
A converted late 1940’s Motor Lodge completed with louvered glass windows?
Sweet sporting art on the coverlet?
You know it.
Because we had children and gear and wanted to use The Islander’s kitchenettes to full capacity, we decided to drive in separate vehicles.
Not a miserable ride, but it’s a long haul best broken up somewhere along I95.
Three years ago, we stopped off in Jupiter, FL, and visited our pals Jen and John Smyth just down the road in Palm Beach. Jen is an Andover pal. We stick close together no matter where we are.
We woke up the next morning for an early mosey on down to Upper Matecumbe Key.
Plan you drive.
Drive your plan.
On they way, we stopped at the Key Largo Fish House upon the recommendation of a friend.
I swear that Carmela and Tony were at the next table. Made men everywhere.
Fish Matecumbe is a game changer.
Our pals were eating lunch at Denny’s. Denny’s Latin Cafe. Not the one of Grand Slam breakfast fame based in SC, but the one of Cuban sandwich fame with bacon fried in peanut oil and the best homemade mojo criollo sauce south of Miami and north of Havana.
We met them there and decided we must come back there for lunch sometime.
Next stop, the Winn Dixie in Tavernier.
Basics supplies gathered.
While waiting in line, we were cutoff by two aggressive old women, one in a Lark/Rascal scooter. Don’t mess with the elderly in the Keys as they pick up their light beer and laxatives.
Next stop was the Islander.
It has only just recently re-opened, updated for the modern crowd, after Hurricane Irma in September 2017. We hear it’s way fancier having been injected with insurance money (N.B. Charleston, SC , 1989-1990)
We loved it. Kitchenettes, large beach, pools, palm trees with iguanas and right across the highway from The Lorelei, beloved hangout of major drunks, tourists, locals.
In 2016, we booked tickets to the Theater of the Sea, a marine mammal park on Windley Key. Located in an old rock quarry used to build the Overseas Railroad, the old rock pits are now filled and used as lagoons for dolphin research and care and to allow the ever popular swimming with dolphins.
What’s behind those white vinyl gates?
Bottomless boat rides
A gajillion stray cats and enough Fabulosa to mask the smells but not really.
They don’t even close for Christmas.
Scooby Doo and crew solved many-a-mystery there. Those pesky, meddling kids. Or so it would seem by looking at the place.
Our girls swam with the dolphins. Goals. Dreams. Wishes fulfilled.
Our youngest came home and made an iMovie entitled “Dolphins are Boss.”
Want to know who else is boss?
Michael Trixx, the resident magician at the The Lorelei.
He’s performed for Presidents!
We love that dude, even if the word on the street is that he was cut from America’s Got Talent after a nanosecond.
The rest of the trip was sunning on the beach, swimming in the pool, trips to Bud & Mary’s for t-shirts, suppers at Morada Bay….typical Keys vacation…key lime pie from The Midway Cafe and Bakery.
Dessert at Mrs. G’s Ice Cream, which deserves its own story.
The place has got to be either a human trafficking front or a money launderer.
Straight out of Bloodline.
Don’t be a Kevin.
Our favorite supper was at Chef Michael’s where the fish jumps on your plate. Best black bean soup ever. Hogfish Heaven.
On the second to last day there, our eldest burned herself good and hid under a large hat.
We did go back to the Lorelei on the last night. We practically had our own table with our friendly waitress who told us the story of the tragic loss of a child when we asked about her new tattoo that seemed to be weeping.
Despite a 14 hour car ride back to Charleston, we promised ourselves we would return the following March for more fun in the sun.
Over Thanksgiving that year, the venerable old resort, the Cheeca Lodge sent out an email to a couple folks who lived in Charleston advising that they were having a 40% off special the following spring.
Our down the street neighbor, Libba Osborne, called and told MP and our pal Way Way Allen.
From there, things went viral faster than a silly cat video on the YouTube.
Half of Charleston was in the Keys for Spring Break at the Cheeca in 2017.
The same year, JetBlue had amazing deals.
Had those planes crashed, there would be no one left in Charleston to mourn.
So that we could have a suitable beach cooler, I packed myself in a Yeti Hopper to be checked through to the Fort Lauderdale airport.
The same airport where a man had opened fire a week or two before our scheduled flights.
What are the chances of lightning striking twice?
Should we drive instead?
Hell no! Then the bastards win. Up yours Bin Laden.
So, we boarded the Fort Lauderdale flight at 6 a.m. with half the town.
Quick flight and then a rented MiniVan.
Down 95 and US1 straight to Denny’s Cuban and the likka store next door.
Again, the best Cubano with mojo criollo for all the adults
The children all had pancakes.
Another drive down US1 past our old pal the Islander into the lush privacy of The Cheeca Lodge with a security gate, a par 3, 9-hole golf course, and, like many venerable older hotels, pictures of the famous on its walls.
And, yet again, half of Charleston.
That year, no Theater of the Sea.
Just The Lorelei, Bud n Mary’s, Morada Bay, Midway Cafe, Chef Michael’s.
Chef Michael’s that year had a large Charleston contingent at one table, of which we were a part. What originally was a table of 8 became a table of 14.
The poor couple who sat near us kept looking over and staring at us all agog at our loudness, familiarity, congeniality. They were just jealous.
Charleston folks have a bad reputation for being aloof, snobbish, and insular.
That’s just crazy talk.
They just don’t make new friends easily, don’t really like outsiders, have no need for others, and travel in packs.
I’m from off, remember?
That night at Chef Michael’s remains as one of the best fish meals I have ever had, even if we did just go back a week or two ago.
That was the year that, being concerned about re-heating any leftovers, one of our intrepid Charleston travelers called The Cheeca Lodge and asked, “Hey…y’all got microwaves?”
Another year of parasailing, snorkeling with a jelly fish sting, going to the secret hot tub in the back of the resort, charging things to the room because, hell, it don’t cost nothing.
That was also the year where a group of us were at The Lorelei when the rains started and that same intrepid traveler called over to The Cheeca and asked, “Is this is the shuttle department? Can you pick us up at the Lorelei? It’s starting to rain!”
The shuttle arrived moments later to whisk us back to our rooms.
The next day, we all spent way too much time in Fort Lauderdale wandering around waiting for our return flight. Nothing like watching the NCAA b-ball tourney in an airport bar.
Go Tar Heels.
Last year, we went to L.A. with the Hagoods, but, that, my dear readers, is a tale for another day.
This year we jumped on The Cheeca Lodge’s deals once again.
This year, seventy five other Charleston folks jumped on the same deal.
A pal who works in the Keys said that folks from The Carolinas with quasi-disposal income are their bread and butter. Quasi-disposal. Classic.
So, with our quasi-disposable, we decided to rent a large SUV this year, loaded up and headed South.
Seven for the road.
Let’s do it.
“What’s the smell in here?”
“Are those old Cheetos under the seat?”
“This car smells bad.”
“If we ain’t got it; we can buy it.”
“How many of them Johnnie O shirts do you people own?”
Some of our friends flew down, some flew down private, some drove.
We laughed the whole way down and the whole way back, even with an occasional squabble.
Better manners with another family in the car.
I highly recommend the fried shrimp basket at B&J Steaks & Seafood in Darien, Georgia. They DO NOT accept check or debit from poor Jason Battle.
They DO have a buffet for $9.00 per person including salad bar and dessert.
You know the salad bar.
It has pepperoni, green olives, and bacon bits the color of convenience store pickled eggs.
From there we made it to St. Augustine.
I didn’t lose anything in the oldest European founded city on the North American continent.
As I told a friend, St. Augustine is like Myrtle Beach, if Myrtle Beach and New Orleans had a bastard child.
We had a lovely meal at The Floridian, but we were glad to be on the road in time to hit up Denny’s Latin for another Cuban sammich, mojo, and pancakes.
We were glad nothing changed there from the hurricanes. Same silk flowers on the table.
We pulled into the same lushness of The Cheeca with a renovations in full view.
Old place looked the same.
One thing that did change was the service at The Cheeca. It needs a little work.
Guess it’s too much to ask for full recovery in a year and a half.
Construction noise is a real thing.
So is a lack of water use on some days.
So is a fire alarm.
So is a malfunctioning elevator.
So is a surly bar staff.
But, it was great. Really. It was great. Again.
I’d go back tomorrow.
This year, we rented a boat, too.
Us, the Hagoods, our pals the Givens.
We met up with our friends the Braggs who pulled their own vessel down from S.C.
Oscar, the proprietor of A1A Boat Rentals, expressed great concern for us taking out the boat due to the wind blowing around 20 knots.
Guess Oscar has never crossed the Charleston Harbor on a good day.
We took out the boat and had a great time drifting around the Atlantic waters of Upper Matecumbe Key. It was too cold to go to the Islamorada sandbar, but not too cold to raft up with the Braggs, drink cold beer, eat fried chicken, and act the same way we do at home, just with much clearer water.
I win spring break.
I have my chairs staked by 7:30 a.m. and have my ubiquitous Yeti Hopper loaded and ready to go by 8:30 a.m.
There’s a section of the beach at The Cheeca that should be renamed Charleston South. It’s the section by the bent palm tree, supra, providing the social media backdrop for everyone, including me.
One of our pals speared a snapper and had the chef fry it up and bring it on out for everyone mid-afternoon one day.
I generally remained anchored in one spot with friends of all sorts drifting in and out after parasailing, fishing, snorkeling, shopping at the Publix nearby.
Unfortunately, The Lorelei proved a bust for me this year due to my getting a mess of sunscreen behind my contacts and not being able to see. No Michael Trixx.
That’s o.k. My Publix sub provided enough sustenance along with the liquid bread from the Miller brewing co.
Good meals at Morada Bay and Chef Michael’s again.
However, the revelation this trip was our grace and favor meal provided by the Islamorada Fishing Club. It seems that the yacht club to which I belong and a great number of the Charleston crew belongs has no reciprocity with anyone.
However, one of our number finagled our way into the private club for a meal due to his smooooooooooooooooooooooooooth talking.
The Hagoods, the O’Kelleys, Alice and Ron Givens and their girls, Austin and Walker…off we went to club.
As we waited for the shuttle department, a group of angry Midwesterners glared at us because the 12 year old and 13 year old in our party secured us the shuttle first.
Membership has its privileges. On that note, I highly suggest talking your way into someone else’s private club for a meal. It’s not tacky at all. Not at all. Charge it to the Underhills, of course.
Great spicy conch chowder with a touch of sherry.
Wonderful fish that night.
I also highly suggest going to Chef Michael’s before 8 p.m. as they do run out of fish.
“I’m sorry, we are out of triple tail due to the high number of orders at your table.”
“Well, what do you recommend as a substitute?”
“[Fill in name of fish]”
“What’s kind of fish is that?”
“Oh, a light flaky white fish”
Aren’t they all?
I had consumed a number of beers, a martini at the bar, and a glass of rose. Much to his credit, our waiter at Chef Michael’s asked if I would be driving.
“Nah, he just has to walk his drunk behind back to The Cheeca.”
“Oh, well, then, he can have as much wine as he wants.”
This year, no one really sunburned herself.
This year, no one really appeared drunk.
This year, no one got on my last nerve, which could have happened by virtue of the sheer numbers of Fellow Travelers.
This year, the trip to the Keys mirrored a trip to Vegas: what happens in the Keys stays in the Keys.
I omit much to protect the names of the not-so-innocent.
Roasting the guilty over and over again under the tropical sun.
Remember to re-apply sunscreen and disdain every 30 minutes.
The ride home was a 12 hour day after another breakfast at The Midway Cafe.
Stop and go traffic on the Florida Turnpike in Miami made a few of us a little car sick. No emergency but definitely needed a break or two from the misery of
n stop n go n
go n stop
stop n go.
Some of our crew who left earlier sent us a text advising to get on Waze as I95 turned into a parking lot somewhere around Daytona Beach.
One of us drivers said we did not trust Waze as it was definitely invented by Millennial Tricksters.
Thanks be to God for those little nattering navigator nabobs.
They got us through a closed part of I95 and through 5 p.m. traffic in Jacksonville.
We tried to go to the Chic Fil A in Kingsland, Georgia, but, the lady in the drive thru said they had a long line.
“We just got hit by a bus.”
Welcome to South Jawja.
Stopping at another Chic Fil A in South Jawja let us know we were truly back in the South.
“Hey, y’all, take your order?”
Yes, we’d like to go back to The Keys right now and get the hell out of this country ass place.
If you ever ate there, then you know how blessed you were.
If you ever ate there, then you know that Lowcountry cooking tops all others.
If you ever ate there, then you know that there were no other biscuits in the world that good.
I’m talking about The Palms in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
The restaurant affixed to The Palms Motel on the main drag, Jacob Smart Boulevard.
Thirty minutes from Beaufort, South Carolina.
We went there after church on Sundays.
All manner of Lowcountry folks from Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head, Savannah, Hampton, Ridgeland, Estill, Yemassee, would converge on The Palms on Sundays for the most amazing buffet meals ever.
Situated in the restaurant area of the motel.
Outside there was a goldfish pond complete with lily pads and a small fountain.
To get to the restaurant, patrons walked through the office where Mrs. Patel held court nodding at diners as she chewed her fennel seeds and listened to soft Bollywood music.
The entrance to the dining room was by the end of the buffet.
The dining room glowed with incandescent bulbs dangling from faux bronze chandeliers in the shape of palm fronds.
“How many?” came the question upon walking into the room, followed by a quick, “Well, hey, how y’all been doin’?” from the waitress taking us to our table.
I adored those palm frond chandeliers. I repeatedly told my parents that I would be stealing one if the restaurant ever closed.
We would go for Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, or other big events.
My grandparents met us there a couple of times.
Our Savannah kinfolk met us there, too.
We loved the place, nicotine stained walls and all.
What was not to love about the white table clothed establishment in the middle of the county seat of Jasper County that served amazing Lowcountry cooking?
Was it fancy? No
Were we there for the ambiance? No
Would it have been #ThePalms? No
Would it have been highly Instragrammable? No
Was it perfectly cooked food in a homey, and somewhat so, homely atmosphere. May be.
To this day, when I think of a perfect Sunday dinner, I think of the meals at The Palms after church.
The menu never changed.
The same waitresses for years and years.
“May I get you anything?” they would ask as they refilled tea glasses.
“More biscuits, please,” always came the reply from our table and every other table.
My youngest brother would smuggle in his own bottle of A-1 Sauce to douse his meats and, yes, his green beans.
What was so great about The Palms?
In one corner of dining room was the cooled salad server that provided
Iceberg lettuce with small pieces of radish and cukes, and may be a couple of grated carrots and tomatoes and the rare sliver of purple cabbage;
May be a few pickled beets from time to time;
French dressing, blue cheese, ranch.
Never heard of it
Up at the front of the room, the main buffet consisted of
Shrimp and okra gumbo;
Giblet gravy with sliced eggs;
Stewed yellow squash with onions or squash casserole;
Broccoli casserole or asparagus casserole;
Sweet potato souffle in orange cups with toasted coconut.
In the center of the room on a round table underneath the largest of the palm frond chandeliers were the desserts of
Coconut cream pie with tons of meringue piled high;
Lemon meringue pie with tons of meringue piled high;
Cookies and cream pie from out of the freezer;
Pecan pie with a bop of whipped cream;
Sweet potato pie with a bop of whipped cream.
Each waitress brought her tables basket after basket of the world’s most amazing angel biscuits along with individual gold foil wrapped pats of butter. The warm biscuit softened the butter pats to perfect spreading consistency.
Some of the older patrons were known to put the butter pats in their pockets to take home.
Channeling Strom Thurmond, all diners wrapped up extra biscuits in paper napkins to take home.
The perfect combination of flour, fat, buttermilk, leavening and just a touch of sugar.
Angel biscuits with yeast.
To paraphrase from “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” these were More-glorious-than-the-Seraphim and O-higher-than-the-Cherubim biscuits.
Dominions, Princedoms, Powers, Virtues, Archangels, Angels’ choirs, would have all cried out for them.
Ye Patriarchs and Prophets blessed never knew such joy on a bread plate.
They were so amazing that my mother would order pie plates of the uncooked biscuits and deliver them to friends for Christmas.
We would make runs to Ridgeland to fill up a cooler or two close to the big day and deliver to our friends in Beaufort.
“These are NOT biscuits from The Palms?” recipients would facetiously ask.
They knew exactly what they were.
“Oh my Lawd! Y’all should not have,” was another popular retort upon receipt of the pie plate with uncooked biscuit dough.
In addition to the perfection of those flaky morsels, the main meal astounded.
Each Sunday, the fried chicken skin shattered on the first bite.
The beef melted around its cooked carrots and onions.
The gumbo teemed with fresh local shrimp and the perfect amount of okra, spicy but not too hot.
Cornbread dressing that I try to replicate every Thanksgiving served as another gravy delivery system.
Dadgum that gravy!
Perfect gravy with giblets and eggs and just enough salt.
Biscuits providing just that little sumpin to sop up the remnants on the edge of the plate.
Steamed rice with each grain separated awaiting to be covered in either gravy or gumbo.
The dark corners of the macaroni pie with a couple of noodles just a wee bit singed on top to become the tiniest bit crunchy.
Vegetables with pot likker and the piece of side meat to push out of the way with the slotted serving spoon.
The squash, broccoli, asparagus en casserole. Straight out of the 1950s. But, so damned good.
The sweet potato souffle in orange cups with the fresh orange juice, a first dessert during the main part of meal, remains my favorite thing about that menu.
No marshmallows here just old school toasted coconut.
All of the hot food heated with the soft glow and addictive smell of Sterno cups.
And to drink:
Iced tea, either sweet or unsweet
The cooks had been there under several owners.
No surprise who the cooks were.
I wish I knew their names.
I wish I had gone back into the kitchen to watch their alchemy.
Who were these culinary Circe’s?
African American ladies who had cooked in the kitchen forever, under the supervision of a succession of owners.
Eventually, a small lady from Thailand ended up making all of the biscuits after taking over from the original biscuit baker. The original baker’s lungs could no longer endure flour dust. Baker’s lung is a thing.
Any time we went, immediately upon arrival, I ran for a slice of coconut cream pie on the dessert table as they were always the first to go.
Can you tell I love coconut?
Regulars had their usual tables for years.
Miss Essie and General Edwin Pollock sat on the left by the window overlooking the goldfish pond. Miss Essie enveloped us in hugs with her turkey waddle arms flapping generously around our small frames.
“Boys, go speak to Miss Essie and The General,” our mother would say.
“Oh, Jawge, the boys are gettin’ so big!” Miss Essie would exclaim. “Yancey, I know you’re so proud of these young men.”
The Harpers from Estill, and whatever part of their family could join them, were always in the front room.
The Sauls from Ridgeland had that table across from the Harpers.
Always a smattering of Tutens, Clelands, Malphruses, and Lowthers. Jasper County woods are full of them.
We almost always sat near the Harpers’ table.
“Well, hey, how are y’all?” Mr. Harper would nod over to us.
A local lady named Esther Cooler took over the restaurant after a number of years. She seemed to be always smoking herself a 100 length cigarette.
I would not have wanted to cross Miz Cooler. No, Sir. Never.
One time I made the mistake of asking her for two meets on a weekday. During the week, The Palms proprietors allowed only one choice of meat, which they put on the waiting china.
Miz Cooler just glared at me and said, “Well, Son, I’d have to charge you double for that.”
My mother once asked Miz Cooler about her favorite thing on her buffet.
“Oh, I get sick to death of this food,” she said, “I just like to get me a cheeseburger from Wendy’s.”
For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the man who ran the place before Miz Cooler.
One time my father was at The Palms during the week, and he heard that gentleman toss his head back into the kitchen and inquire loudly, “Ruby! Ruby!……..hey, yea, Ruby!…….is them po’k chops ready yet?”
You know those po’k chops were fried, of course, and only available during the week.
Is them ready yet?
We weren’t there for the grammar, either.
It was mostly on Sundays that we adored The Palms.
Some Sundays we would eat so much that we would have to stop for sodium bicarb at a gas station on the way home.
One time, our friend Hayes Williams laid himself out in the back of his parents’ car moaning in sybaritic satiation.
“Son, you o.k.?” asked his father
“No, Sir. I’m gonna die,” replied our pal.
“No, Son,” said his father. “You just ate too much. Guess we need some baking soda.”
Sometimes The Palms laid us all out flat.
I hate to report that The Palms restaurant closed almost two decades ago. My children never had the opportunity to eat there.
Like all good things, it came to an end after Miz Cooler retired and the cooks ended up dying out without anyone to take over that old time cooking.
Those of us of a certain age remember well those Sunday dinners.
My pal Robyn Josselson Shirley bemoans the loss of those biscuits.
It has been ages since my family delivered them for Christmas presents; former recipients still complain.
Wish there were a few more to smuggle out in my napkin.
Mark my words: I’m still going to steal one of those chandeliers.