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 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 fame married a gal from there. Melvin Purvis-Special Agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office and 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.
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 . 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.