Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lilly Pulitzer Meets Loretta Lynn...Again

I've got a zinger or two up my sleeve for future posts but for now, here's another one from the past. Fear not, I'm almost at the bottom of the recycle barrel so one of two things is bound to happen. I'll either contrive fresh things to blog about or I'll blog less frequently.

LFG is on the home stretch of the school year and we are in the midst of planning vacations. Surely one of our first vacation weeks will be spent at home...with my mama. Shut up.

Lilly Pulitzer Meets Loretta Lynn...That’s how I’d characterize the town of my upbringing. I posted my LFG-Mom Charleston sortie first-realizing that a post focused more precisely on my
hometown would be decidedly down-market. I enjoyed growing up in a southern town of about fifteen thousand. It was stereotypical in its small-ish town character and today it suffers from the typical ennui and malaise that a lot of provincial little spots endure.

My hometown hasn’t spawned too many famous people. Harry Carson-the NFL Hall of Famer-New York Giant grew up there. Larry McMurtry of Lonesome Dove fame married a gal from there. Melvin Purvis-Special Agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office and John Dillinger capturer is a native son.

I suppose the most overlooked native son is artist William H. Johnson. I believe that the only reason Johnson wasn’t a major force in the Harlem Renaissance is that he’d already decamped to Europe where African Americans could thrive socially, economically and artistically in ways that they couldn’t back home. Certainly Johnson couldn’t feed his talent by remaining in our hometown.

I’ve walked the streets that I know for sure Johnson walked as well. He didn’t leave until he was eighteen years old and I also know that he walked the streets of our shared hometown under vastly different circumstances. Finally, it saddens me to know that if you did a “man on the street” interview in my hometown-nobody would know who William H. Johnson was-much less that he was born there.
Here’s some additional commentary on Johnson….

William H. Johnson (1901-1970)
William H. Johnson was one of the foremost African American artists of his generation. He lived and worked in New York, France and Denmark, and his style and subject matter were as wide ranging as his travels. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he was strongly influenced by the Expressionists.

"....Johnson extended [the] inquiry into [his] ancestry and self to his art, as seen in several fascinating self-portraits...""...Johnson's intense colors and expressive painting technique catapult his self image into a modern aesthetic, one riddled with formal dichotomies and underlying emotions. Light years ahead of those somber self-portraits that lined the halls of the National Academy of Design and other American institutions, this introspective view....illustrates the talent behind the artist's demand for greater respect and recognition...."

Richard J. Powell, 'A Painter in the World: 1930-1938', Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson.
I’m not a good enough writer to capture in words the feeling I had as a little boy when I was regaled with the stories of Melvin Purvis. He was always larger than life in my little mind because he was an FBI man. But not only an FBI man-the FBI man who “got” Dillinger. In truth, the diminutive southern lawyer was more Atticus Finch than Dirty Harry. He never fired at Dillinger but it didn’t matter to me.

He was a reluctant celebrity who returned to our hometown and tried to settle into the small town lawyer-entrepreneur role and never comfortably did. He was a member of my fraternity-Kappa Alpha Order and a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. A rather scripted and typical emergence of a southern gentleman.

I grew up around the corner from what we called the “Purvis Mansion”. My parent’s home was on land that twenty years previous to it being residential, was part of the Purvis extended property. Most of my childhood was spent in the woods surrounding the Purvis home. We had tree houses and forts and tunnels and all sorts of boyhood encampments therein. What made all of this even more riveting was all the speculation about Purvis’ death. He died in the house of a self inflicted gunshot wound. He was a handgun expert and an avid collector of guns. Some say that a round was mistakenly left in the gun-others say that Purvis never really recovered from his falling out with J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover-not known to share the spotlight-never forgave Purvis for upstaging him and becoming an overnight international celebrity as a result of the Dillinger episode. I’m gonna stop right here on the speculation since I want to do another post on Melvin Purvis.
I must tell you that when I was a paperboy-my pulse raced every morning as I would walk up to the steps of the Purvis home and leave the Morning News. You would think after delivering a paper there a few hundred times that the mystery-the allure-the whatever-would wear off. It never did and it didn’t when LFG and I walked over and took a few pictures from the front gate the other day.

Ok, so on to more pedestrian things. The Sundae House still purveys goodies that put most everything else in the fast food world to shame. We used to ride bikes up here and get burgers and milk shakes. They are still as good as they were when I was a child.
South of the Border-NOT worth the stop. Trust me on this.
I forgot to mention this Charleston street corner in my previous post. Freemasonry isn't a southern thing per se. There are Lodges all over the world. However, when I was a kid-every civic leader-business owner-judge-doctor-lawyer in my hometown was a Mason. The Masonic roots are deep in South Carolina.

LFG and I rode by the Lodge in my hometown where I received all three of my Masonic Degrees. LFG calls it my "club". She knows about the Masonic charm that I wear around my neck with the "G" amidst the Square and Compass so every time she sees a lodge anywhere she says "Dad...there's your club". Most of the Founding Fathers were Masons and until the last few decades, it was an organization of professional and blue collar men. Not sure what the future holds for such a rich and tradition bound organization.
These lamps have been on the corner of the Lodge since I was a little kid. It used to fascinate me to see one of the lights turned on-designating what particular Degree was being delivered on a specific night. My unbridled curiosity was enough to assure that I would become a Mason-just so I could reconcile what went on inside the walls of that place. I got a ton of reconciliation during the Third Degree of Masonry. Ever wonder where the old saying..."He got the third degree" came from?
No trip home would be complete without a dose of fried chicken. Bojangles does it as good as anyone. During our lunch-I was trying to get LFG to learn that great southern phrase..."tell your mamma an em I said hey". We are still working on it.

The tobacco looked skimpy this summer. Tobacco helped clothe and educate me and I know that it will kill you-we all do. So the government now pays farmers to not grow it. I get a paltry tobacco subsidy check from the government every year. Agrarian welfare. It's about enough to buy a pair of Flusser socks-given that it is now divided among a zillion cousins. My father's family has been turning the soil you see outside this car window since 1803. And before you ask-No-there are no slave owners in my family tree. Middle class dirt farmers at best. No Landed Gentry here.

I worry to death that every time I go home, I'll swing by Weinbergs for my standard order of sausage and they'll be closed. They weren't and LFG and I got five pounds.

LFG and I drove twenty minutes from my childhood home to the Joe Weatherly Museum at the Darlington Raceway. Be quiet. LFG loves it.
And finally-the trip home wouldn't be complete without bringing raw peanuts home to boil. You haven't lived till you've had these.



NCJack said...

Have to gainsay you on South of the Border. If someone hasn't had the experience, you need to do it at least once, like Vegas. I grew up in Fairmont NC, about 15 miles away, and we were enthralled by the "Yankee" prices that Alan Schafer charged there. And even us rubes knew that we were in the presence of world class tacky; Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg, and Helen GA all pale by comparison, but it was a shining oasis for Northern Moms & Dads with a carload of kids on the way to Florida.

I had occasion to meet Schafer (who also had a beer distributorship that covered the beach), and being a "cool" 17 year old asked how much it cost to get I-95 not to bypass SoB. He said "Son, I just showed them one year's gasoline sales tax total, not even the room and food taxes, and they couldn't redraw that map fast enough"

K.S. Anthony said...

Charleston is a town much loved by me. I've spent many hours among the graves of our lost brethren. One summer, I bought dozens of...err...starry cross flags to put on the graves of confederate dead. That year I also snuck home small pieces of Fort Sumter brick.

Old John C. Calhoun, one of Yale's lost sons, is buried there. Though they named a college for him, I don't think he ever returned. The father of secessionism.

I always stay at the Mills House, where Robert E. Lee--and you--laid his head. I've taken in afternoon services at St. Michaels and danced, very drunkenly, during Spoleto.

My favorite days there, however, were spent gambling on board games at The Brick with the lads there and perusing the shops on King Street before getting drunk on champagne and fried brie at Poogan's porch.

My own ancestors were New England yankees who spread out along the Eastern seaboard in the 17th and 18th centuries before moving into the south. South Carolina was not one of those states, but I love it as though it were my own.

South Carolina is also where Old Pike once set the 33ยบ degree...and of that immortal geography, I shall say no more.

Cheers brother--one of my favorite posts yet.

James said...

You're right about boiled peanuts.It's one of my favorite Southern foods.To this day my yankee wife has never tried them. Say how old were you when you learned damn yankee was two words?

Lisa said...

Re: the boiled peanuts. "You haven't lived till you've had these." I have tried them several different times and I thought I was gonna die each time: nasty stuff.

ADG said... gotta have a White Trash streak about a foot wide...right down your back in order to enjoy them.

James...funny. I thought that people from North Carolina were yankees.

K.S. Great comments...and I thought I was eclectic.

N.C.Jack...and I'll have to come back at you and say that the South of the Border of 40 years ago ... ain't ... anymore. Schafer's sons don't give a damn about it...they don't have control anymore. The current "Mrs. Schafer" won't put a penny in to the's a ghost town. Kind of an abandoned Trailer Trash Vegas with Urine Smell. I took LFG there once...just so I could say that we did it. We bought one of everything...for about ten bucks. Listen, I couldn't write this kind of response to your statement if I didn't hold a candle for the South of the Border of old...the campest place in the world no doubt. As for the tax revenue being the energy behind redrawing the exits...that's the front office story. The back office truth is much more smarmy than that. I know this first hand. My father was a local ... shall we say... Soprano.

Fairmont...knew a fella from there...I think he still lives there. Last name... Inman.

Brian said...

ADG, great the stories and memories; brings back some of my own from around 20 minutes ago...ate a pork chop biscuit and bo-rounds for breakfast this morning.

ADG said...

Brian...damn...a pork chop biscuit. I could tear one up right now...nothing better than White Trash-Poor People Food. I've found a Bojangles Chicken place in a real bad part of town and I'm headed there for lunch.

NCJack said...

Very sorry to hear of the downfall of SoB, it used to be a unique spot. Yeah, we all heard about the "17 brand new Thunderbirds" the SC Highway Commissioners got, but since we assumed the corruption, the sales tax story actually made better sense. But then Schafer did Federal time for vote fraud, so...

And "The Beach" (mainly OD for us) is just a seawall of condos now, not even worth the trip. Charleston is still a gem, though

ADG said...

NC Jack...We owned with another family, an old wood frame beach house on the 2nd row in O.D. Classic old air conditioning...big screened porch....great. I won't go near O.D. anymore 'cause I don't want to taint those memories.

Anonymous Texan said...

Masonic Lodge......My grandfather examined his future son in law out in the cow pasture before giving his consent to his daughter's engagement.
Definitely..."Old School, Old Guard Ironass", need more of it. I know that your dues are paid up. Enuff said.

NCJack said...

ADG, how's this for a new "beach music" tune:
"You Can't See the Ocean,
From Ocean Boulevard"

Sample verse: "Scoped out the ladies back in the day,

Now there's too many condos in the way"

Preppy 101 said...

I absolutely love reading about the G-men and all that is Purvis and Ness. The Untouchables was one of my favorite shows growing up. JEH was such a complete jerk - I mean seriously.

Thank you for mentioning the boiled peanuts that I am now craving and do not have . . .



K.S. Anthony said...

My apologies for the length of that comment. Got tight on gin last night and did some drunk-blogspotting. Eeeeeggghhhh


ADG said... apology needed...your comments were great.

Preppy 101 ... Suffer no more. Go here and order a case of these canned boiled peanuts. They are 90% as good as fresh boiled ones. Trust me. I keep a case of these on hand at all times.

NCJack....eggzackly why I don't go down there anymore.


Anonymous said...

Lovely pictures and stories, thanks for sharing!

"I’m gonna stop right here on the speculation since I want to do another post on Melvin Purvis."

If you ever do that one, I'd really love to read it!

ADG said...

I'll do a Purvis post at some point.

Anonymous said...

Yay! Looking forward to that.