THE WRESTLER

Reblog from earlier.

Ravings of a Mad Southerner

This is a story that should have been included in WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING…but wasn’t. WINNING… can be purchased at goo.gl/dO1hcX
“Oh, sweet blindness, a little magic, a little kindness
Oh, sweet blindness, all over me”
“Sweet Blindness”-The Fifth Dimension

He stood with arms raised in triumph, the sweat of his exertion dripping onto the wrestling mat that he stood upon while his mouth curled into a slight smile. He had just won the Upper State Wrestling Championship in his weight class and was in the process of receiving a standing ovation from everyone in the gym, regardless of school affiliation. Well maybe not everyone, I doubt the friends and family of his vanquished foe were standing but you never know. As I stood and applauded, his coach sprinted to the mat and hoisted him into the air and I suddenly had a clarifying thought and felt more…

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THE WRESTLER

This is a story that should have been included in WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING…but wasn’t. WINNING… can be purchased at goo.gl/dO1hcX
“Oh, sweet blindness, a little magic, a little kindness
Oh, sweet blindness, all over me”
“Sweet Blindness”-The Fifth Dimension

He stood with arms raised in triumph, the sweat of his exertion dripping onto the wrestling mat that he stood upon while his mouth curled into a slight smile. He had just won the Upper State Wrestling Championship in his weight class and was in the process of receiving a standing ovation from everyone in the gym, regardless of school affiliation. Well maybe not everyone, I doubt the friends and family of his vanquished foe were standing but you never know. As I stood and applauded, his coach sprinted to the mat and hoisted him into the air and I suddenly had a clarifying thought and felt more than just a little bit sad. Never having considered myself to be an emotional old softy, I still could not stanch the flow of tears that rolled down my cheeks.
In the middle 1980’s Greenville High School in upper state South Carolina had a large and modern gymnasium. The gym, named for the legendary Red Raider football coach James “Slick” Moore, had a problem. There were too many entrances and “hidey holes” that provided opportunities for many forms of teenage activities – the kind which were frowned upon by educators. I’ll let the reader fill in those blanks. Because of its seating capacity and configuration, the “double-decker” gym was host to many events including the Upper State Wrestling Championship. With upper deck seating and enough room for three wrestling mats on the main floor, James “Slick” Moore Gymnasium was perfect to host such an event. As the athletic director in charge of this facility, I found it to be imperfect because I had to administrate the whole shebang from the weigh-ins at dawn’s early light to the final heavy weight tussle at dark thirty. Thankfully, the area wrestling coaches were responsible for setting up and taking down the mats along with the other equipment needed to accomplish this event. I did make myself available for the pre-match set-up and post-match take-down drinks and “lie telling” at a local watering hole.
I first noticed the young wrestler at weigh-ins. I don’t know his name so I am going to invent one because he deserves to be referred to as something else other than “the young wrestler.” I’ll call him Marcus. Marcus wrestled in one of the one-seventy-something pound middle weight classes, traditionally one of the tougher weights to compete in. He looked just like the rest of the “ripped,” zero percent body weight wrestlers…except for the sunglasses that he wore in the pre-dawn light. He acted like the rest of the teenagers around him…except that his arm rested on top of his coach’s arm as he made his way to the scales. He wore the sunglasses and steadied himself on his coach’s arm because he was blind. Not totally blind, as I found out from his coach later. He could see changes in light but that was all. Wow, he could see if it was daylight or dark. I wondered if he could become confused if it was cloudy. I noticed that when he took his sunglasses off, his irises were not the dark brown that I would have expected but were light brown with bright yellow flakes that gave Marcus the look of a wild canine predator. I also noticed that Marcus’s eyes seemed to wander around without settling on anything. I suppose that when you are blind there is nothing to settle on. As he held out his glasses to be taken by his coach, I saw that the side pieces of his glasses had built-in hearing aids. Blind and, at best, he was hearing impaired. Even with these impairments he had a ready smile that made his yellow-flaked eyes become as bright as sunbursts. I use the word impairment instead of disability because he was, at least on a wrestling mat, anything but disabled.
Marcus represented the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind. He was the only wrestler representing the small Spartanburg-based school. In fact, he was the first of its students with whom I had had any interaction and he was the first student from SCSDB whom I considered NOT to be disabled. I had a great uncle who was both deaf and mute. A “dummy” was the term used to describe Claude’s impairment but, as we have become more aware of what is socially acceptable, thankfully, that description is no longer used. Later when I coached track at Landrum we competed against SCSDB and “Land O’ Goshen,” I found them to be as normal as any other teenager is capable of being. While standing next to a group of SCSDB track members cheering on a hearing impaired team mate, one black youth exclaimed in his best ghettoese, “Man, look at that N$%%@r run!” The youngster next to him said, “Now you know I’m blind and can’t see s@#t and neither can you!” Both of them just cackled over their joke along with everyone standing around them.
I don’t remember how many qualifiers were competing that day but, because of Marcus’s weight class, I know that he had to wrestle the full complement of “winner advances-loser goes home” matches before reaching the Upper State Finals. I know this because he was in the middle weights where all of the wrestling studs reside. As he advanced, the number of fans pulling for him increased as the word got around that he was almost totally blind and nearly totally deaf. Well, there is that saying that “everyone loves a winner.” I should point out that being blind is not necessarily a hindrance in wrestling. No really, by rule, when wrestling a blind person, physical contact must be maintained throughout the match. For Marcus it was almost an unfair advantage. In the first of three possible rounds, wrestlers face each other on their feet and work for what is called a “take down.” Because Marcus was blind, the wrestlers faced each other but with the palms of their hands touching, one palm up and one palm down. Marcus had perfected the art of grabbing his competitor’s wrist and when he came up with your wrist, the match was, for all practical purposes, over. None of Marcus’s matches had gone past the first period; most had not made it even into the second minute of the three-minute first round.
His final match would be taxing with both wrestlers evenly matched in desire, ability, strength and conditioning. Much to the delight of his cheering fans, early in the third period, Marcus reversed and held on to a victory by just a point or two. Who were his cheering fans? That would be everyone in the gym except for the opposing wrestler’s parents and girlfriend and I am quite sure they wanted to applaud for Marcus themselves. Both wrestlers hugged each other out of respect and admiration. As Marcus had his hand raised over his head in victory, the gym again exploded into even more applause and cheering. I suddenly had a thought that would cause chills to run up my back and explode onto the back of my head. Causing tears to form in my eyes, my thought was that because of his impairment Marcus would never experience the rush of emotions created by the applause and cheering – the same emotions that I was feeling for him. I know his coach’s embrace clarified his victory, however, I hoped that he could feel the vibrations and could somehow translate them into what a seeing and hearing person might experience. I questioned what he really felt until he walked off the mat and walked into the stands where people just reached out to touch him. At that moment, I knew he knew.

Again, though, his eyes found nothing to focus on and I found it impossible not to draw comparisons to Stevie Wonder. Marcus’s head had the Stevie Wonder “bobble” but he also had that huge Stevie Wonder grin. I decided that while we processed stimuli differently, Marcus had processed it his way and was both proud and happy. He would go on to win the state in his weight class. I am sure that there was plenty of applause and cheering that day, also. I hope and pray that there was “a little magic, a little kindness, Oh, sweet blindness, all over” Marcus at that moment and throughout the rest of his days.

MATTHEW 5:43 AND 44

Verse 43″You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ Verse 44″But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,…”

I purposely stayed away from social media and television programs like Face the Nation before going to church this past Sunday. For the previous few weeks I did not avoid them and found it impossible to focus on my minister’s message because of the venom and hatred that I felt was being spewed by political figures on one venue and friends and acquaintances on another. I did pray for their eternal souls…and mine for what I was thinking about them. What was this week’s message? Matthew Chapter 5. Well, I am sure that Christians everywhere, dead and alive, are rejoicing over the fact that I paid attention…even if it was just a little.

It would seem that many of us who claim to be Christians, and being full of Christian generosity, have Matthew 5:43 down pat. “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy?” I would say that would be an Old Testament influence, the old “eye for an eye,” a notion that we have learned well. It is Verse 44 that seems to be problematic for me, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….” I am also having trouble with my grandmother’s favorite, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yes! I say and think bad things about those people who are out to persecute me – the guy who cuts me off or takes my gas pump when I am signaling…or not; conservatives who call liberals names and liberals who call conservatives names; Christians versus gays; and Christians who post disparaging pictures and untrue statements about our president. Though these disrespectful posts are not actually persecuting me, they really hurt because we react negatively and we are people who are supposed to be Christians! You know…”Turn the other cheek” and “Love thine enemy.”

Before I really start I want to dispel any preconceived notions. I AM NOT A DEMOCRAT OR A LIBERAL…and I AM NOT A REPUBLICAN OR A CONSERVATIVE! If you must put a tag on me I will admit to being a PEDESTRIAN on occasion. My voting record includes both Democrat and Republican, as well as, various third party candidates. I vote with what I consider to be a “knowledgeable heart.” I did not vote for President Obama the second time. Despite not voting for him, I STILL cannot believe how we are treating a sitting president…or a non-sitting one.

For example, a picture of President Obama and the First Lady showing them at what was probably an athletic contest was circulated. In this picture, they did not have the most flattering expressions on their faces which seems to be the norm in these types of pictures. An unknown person is holding a photo-shopped banana in front of them with the caption “Mouths ah waterin’” or some such garbage. Why didn’t you go ahead and go the extra yard with a piece of watermelon? In another, before he was President, movie star Ronnie Reagan is holding President Obama and feeding him a bottle in a “Breakfast with Bonzo” parody. Really? A biracial president portrayed as a monkey. I would say someone’s racist petticoats are showing. The worst, by far, is a nude, cracked-out woman portrayed as President Obama’s mother. Any pictures of Barbara Bush circulating? All were shared by people who claim to be Christians exercising their First Amendment rights. I’m trying not to judge you, according to the Bible that is not my right. Rest assured you will be judged and your sins will be found out! And while I’m at it, do you really think the President and First Lady are going to put the wrong hand over their heart during the National Anthem…on purpose? How stupid do people think we are? Stupid because we keep sharing! Is that judging?

The following is not a rant about whether or not homosexuality is a sin or not. That is not for me to judge. If it is a sin they will have to answer for that at a later date…just like I will have to answer for two divorces. I do not understand why, if another group of people are given their civil rights, we “moan and dress in sackcloth and ashes” claiming that we are losing our rights. I honestly do not understand how gays having a right to a civil union would have any effect on my religion, my marriage…or my rights. People have tried to play it off as the Supreme Court overstepping their bounds or attacks on Christian beliefs. I believe, however, that deep down in my heart there is hate, the same kind of hate expressed by people when the Supreme Court overturned Plessy for Brown and when interracial marriage first became legal. There are others who could care less, they just don’t like being told what they have to do. Yes, the far left is pushing and the far right is digging in.

While I am offending everyone, I don’t believe Mike Huckabee meant his Dred Scott comment the way it came out but then again I believe that extraterrestrials are out there and that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. My point is that calling our enemies names is NOT an act of love, something repeatedly taught by Jesus Christ. It also doesn’t take much intelligence. Huckabee does have a right to his own opinion. Stating why his position is incorrect is one thing, but saying that “What do you expect? He is from Arkansas” or dismissing it as the babblings of the far right is a very different matter. It is disrespectful to a bunch of folks who do know what is going on. Back on point, if my church makes the decision to allow gay marriages, it is a problem between myself and my church. If my church decides not to allow them, then it’s no one else’s business. I have heard my gay friends called abominations, which is actually a misquote of what maybe a Biblical misquote. God makes no mistakes but Biblical translators may have misinterpreted a few passages. I heard Kim Davis referred to in the same way…and many more equally unflattering terms. Name calling is as wrong as the position she has taken! If you are a Christian, it is not very Christ-like to say your neighbor is an abomination…or your enemy according to Jesus. According to Jesus’s own words, we should be praying for them.

Did you know that the pictures of gays desecrating the Christian Flag took place at a festival over two years ago…in Buenos Aires? It circulated as though it was happening today in the good ole United States. Did you know that desecrating the flag of the United States is perfectly legal according to the oft-quoted First Amendment? I find both to be disgusting but that’s not the point. We should be praying for the people who create and post these and other vile pictures and hateful comments. These people are so extremely left or right that they are not only our enemies, but also, enemies of our country and our government. Some even want to start a revolution, and not a quiet one. I must say that at times the United States has been its own worst enemy and an evil one at that. Despite these downfalls, I for one, would rather deal with a known enemy than with an unknown enemy, especially if it is one I love. Therefore, I will pray for our neighbors and our enemies – both foreign and domestic. You might want to try praying for them, too. Ask to remind them that we are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. And who is our neighbor, anyone who walks upon the Earth.

Life is Like a Golf Match

My wife and I attended a funeral this past Sunday. It seems to be our most recent form of social activity. I guess we have reached that age. This service was for a man that I had never met and if the ministers who held this wonderful memorial are to be believed, and I do, Mike Hawkins’s father was someone I wish I had met. Past his ninety-first birthday, Frank Hawkins had gone to the same church his entire life, had been married to the same woman for longer than I have been alive and earned a Bronze Star during World War Two. He also took it upon himself to carve out a playing field across the road from his house so that his sons and their neighborhood friends could play baseball…Yes he coached the team to. Mr. Hawkins certainly “walked the Christian walk.”

Linda and I attended the service to show our support and love for Mike, who was Frank’s second son, my best friend and a former classmate of Linda’s. I first met Mike some forty years ago on opposite sides of some forgotten athletic field but remember that it did not go well. I would get to know him better when I coached with him for twelve years. That period of time went much better as long as you avoid speaking of won-loss record. As the two ministers, close friends of Mike’s father, told stories about Frank I could not help but think how different Mike and his father were…except they weren’t. Frank was gregarious, enjoyed people and was a fishing maniac according to his preacher friends while Mike would rather undergo a root canal than get caught in a group of people, can be moody and cannot be still long enough to sit in a boat for longer than five minutes…except to take his dad fishing. It became apparent however, as the stories went on, that they shared the same passions. Mr. Hawkins was passionate for his religion, his family and kids. So is Mike. There is no more loyal friend than Mike Hawkins and despite his gruffness, no one cares more deeply for kids.

There were many coaches, former players and parents and even a retired sports writer showing their respect for Mike and his father. It was good to catch up with old friends and I thought of another former player and coaching chum, Bucky Trotter. I had seen him just a few weeks ago at a reunion of football players and coaches at Mauldin High from 1980 and remembered a time when we stood on a tee box at a local golf course. It was our annual golf outing and for some of us it was the only time that we played golf during the course of a year…and we played accordingly. Bucky became a bit of a philosopher after hooking a shot into the woods when he said, “You know? Golf is a lot like life. We start out together going to school or working together just like on this tee and then we hit our shots and go off on our separate ways just like in life. Sometimes, if we are lucky and don’t hit our shot too deeply in the woods, we manage to find our way back to each other just like getting back to the green.” I was glad to have made it back to the green to see the old Mauldin staff and players two weeks ago and it was good to catch up with people I had not seen for a while at the funeral. I feel for Mike and his loss but I think Mr. Hawkins would have approved.

A LOVE STORY

An excerpt from WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING, a book about forty years of teaching and coaching. It maybe purchased using the following link goo.gl/dO1hcX

“You can’t always get what you want
but if you try sometime
well you might find
you get what you need”
“You can’t always get what you want”-The Rolling Stones

As you travel west on Highway 11 between Highway 14 and the Georgia State line, you will certainly understand why this particular highway is called the Cherokee Scenic Highway. Small mountains, water features galore, forested areas, parks and unfortunately, many golf courses cover the landscape around what was once a Cherokee trading path. Traveling is usually slow due to pulp wood trucks, bass boats being towed to and from Lake Keowee, or “Sunday Drivers” sight seeing on a Wednesday. I am fortunate to have lived on Highway 11 for nearly thirty years. Even after all of this time, Linda Gail and I still like to explore around Highway 11, looking for pig trails that might lead us on an adventure. Sometimes you get what you ask for.

Late one Friday, in the spring of 2001, Linda Gail and I were enjoying the evening while driving west in her Mustang toward the setting sun. We had eaten at a local golf course called The Rock and had turned west toward the sun instead of east toward home. I felt this was somewhat symbolic as I had made the decision before the 2001 baseball season to retire from athletics and ride off into the sunset. As soon as the baseball season ended, I began to regret my decision. While Linda Gail and I rode west, top down with the wind in our face, we talked about our careers, shared stories about former players and friends and discussed what I was going to do with those free hours I had not had for twenty-eight years. I did not have a clue but knew I did not like the size of Linda Gail’s honey do list.

I have often joked that if you drive far enough on Highway 11 you will reach the end of the world. If you turn left at the end of the world, you will find yourself in Salem. It is less than one square mile of mostly … nothing. The city of Salem boasts a population of one hundred and thirty five people according to the 2010 Census. The area adjoining it, Tamassee, is an unincorporated area whose name in the Cherokee language means “Place of the Sunlight of God”. It was named for an old Cherokee village destroyed by Andrew Pickens in the late 1700’s. There are a few businesses, churches and homes clustered around Highway 130 and what is called Park Avenue. There is also a fire department to the east and area’s namesake Tamassee-Salem Middle and High School to the west. This is where we found ourselves on that Friday evening with the sun setting behind the hill that the school sat on. The symbolism had not gone un-noticed as I joked, “I know what I can do when I grow up. I’ll come be the athletic director at Tamassee-Salem. They don’t have football or soccer. How hard can it be?” I have since re-thought the silliness of that statement.

As I looked at a South Carolina sports website the next day, I found a classified advertisement for a baseball coach and social studies teacher at, you guessed it, Tamassee-Salem. Once I got over the tingle up and down my spine I began to feel a strong pull toward the setting sun. I am religious but not in a recognized way. Even though I was publically dunked into the Baptist Church where I still attend, I lean more toward the New Testament Evolutionary Church of Christ according to Don. I even throw in a little Buddhism to add seasoning and for heat would like to combine it with some of the pagan activities that I have read about. For some reason Linda Gail won’t let me.

I still could not deny the feeling that I was being called to Tamassee-Salem. Like a moth’s attraction to an open flame or a siren’s call, the tug was unmistakable and strong. I discussed my feelings with Linda Gail but did not come to any clear decision. Linda gave me her normal “Do what you want” advice. The following Monday I continued to battle the feeling that I was being pulled toward Tamassee-Salem and decided that during my planning period I would call and inquire about the position. The telephone call was … well, interesting. Mr. Bill Hines, Tamassee-Salem’s principal, could not figure out why I wanted to come to Tamassee-Salem after my successes at Riverside. After the third time of being asked “But why do you want to come HERE,” I responded, somewhat testily, “I don’t know that I do, that is what I am trying to find out.” In Bill’s defense, he thought that I had committed one of the two cardinal sins of teaching or coaching that will get you fired faster than your won-loss record; diddling where one should not diddle or spending money that was not yours to spend. When I took the job at Tamassee-Salem a lot of my coaching peers actually thought the same thing. They could not understand why I was walking away from a successful program for one that had not even attained mediocrity. I wasn’t sure either but I told Mr. Hines that I was still a teacher in good standing at Riverside and gave him permission to call to confirm it. The next day he called back and invited me to come for an interview.

As I walked away from my interview, none of the allure for Tamassee-Salem had been displaced. I liked everyone that I had met and felt that the administration had gone out of their way to impress me which was quite flattering. (I am not easy but I can be had.) I also knew that athletically it would be a challenge, but I felt that I probably needed a new challenge. As much as I felt that I had “come home,” I was still in a conflicted state. I had many close friends at Riverside and had served in Greenville County for twenty-five years, but my biggest issue was with my wife. Linda Gail and I had spent over fifteen years involved with the Warriors. She was the junior varsity girl’s basketball coach and the varsity girl’s tennis coach at Riverside. Our support of each other athletically was part of our relationship. I was actually present when Coach Golden asked her if she was interested in the coaching position. Louie was trying to hire a body just to field a position and had not realized what he was getting into. This is something he and I share … the not knowing what we were getting into, not the body. Linda Gail and I had been intertwined with athletics and each other our entire dating and married life. I debated with myself the decision to change schools. Our intertwinement included friends, parents, students and former players in addition to each other.

When I returned to Tamassee-Salem for my second interview, it turned out not to be an interview but an offer of employment. I had decided to take Linda Gail with me and while driving around the community, I found her to be somewhat reserved. Anyone who knows my wife would never use that description, but she was on this particular day, which made me very uncomfortable. She realized that our lives were getting ready to change, something that had not dawned on me but quickly would. When I returned to my truck with the news that I had been offered the position she broke into tears which I found were not tears of joy. Linda realized that a large part of our lives together had “been torn asunder” and the man responsible was me. We recovered, as many couples do, when their unions were torn apart by seductive outside forces. Luckily my seductive forces were another school and not … well, take your pick.

My relationship with Linda Gail is and has never been an ordinary relationship even from its inception. Linda Gail and I disagree on when we actually first met but since this is my story I will tell it my way. I first remember seeing my future bride on Halloween of 1984. She had been in an off and on again relationship with my roommate and for some reason we had not met until that night. (She disagrees but I know that had I met her I would have remembered.) When I dragged myself in after practice that evening I saw both of my roomies sitting with sly grins on their faces. As I sat down and asked what was going on, two attractive young ladies slowly stood up from behind the wet bar, one had an inflatable pumpkin on her head, the other with a witch hat on. Linda Gail was the sultry, dark-haired beauty with the pumpkin on her head; Jeanie Reed was the pretty blond witch. They both made a positive impression.
I realize many of you might be thinking that since she was my roommate’s girlfriend that I might have gone behind his back and shot him out of his saddle. No, when he was shot out of his saddle it was a self inflicted wound. Linda Gail and I did not begin dating until after she and Jim had broken up and he had moved to another part of the state. Linda Gail had tried to “fix me up” with all of her friends, even the pretty witch Jeanie, and I think she simply had sympathy on me after she had run out of options. I am not saying that there had not been sparks early in our relationship, I had had plenty. Who would not have sparks for a short, pretty and well put together brunette with big ole … hazel eyes that tend to turn green with anger or mischief and a personality that reminded me of a humming bird on amphetamines? Over the next eight months or so, we became great friends, but that was all. Even after we could have begun dating, she had to make the first overtures and ended up asking me out … twice. Sometimes I am really slow to catch on. Once I caught on ….

The following Halloween found us not quite dating exclusively but close. This particular All Hallows Eve was on a Thursday and Greenville was playing Southside in a JV game at Greenville. I had to be at the game, while Linda Gail and Jeanie were going out to a costume party without me. Those two events should have been exclusive of each other but this particular night they became inclusive. It was raining and I had invited several of the booster club members to join us in the press box to stay dry. Booster club members being entertained in the press box was not an ordinary occurrence and had never happened before until this night. As the game went on, someone knocked on the door. My booster club president opened the door and found two pretty ladies opening their trench coats and exposing their somewhat revealing Halloween costumes. One was a vampire mistress of the night in a short black mini dress with lots of zippers and chains, the other a French maid complete with fishnet stockings, crinolines and a whole lot of cleavage showing … a lot of cleavage showing. I tried not to fall out of the press box window while everyone else was speechless. Utter and complete silence ruled until our booster club president paid them a left handed compliment and confessed that “If I had known it was like this up here I would have come up a lot sooner.”

Once Linda Gail and I decided to jump the broom I felt that I needed to cloister her away in order to keep her subtle way of expressing herself from getting me into trouble. She knows how to turn a word but sometimes lets emotion rule the day, which sometimes makes me rue the day. I did not want to turn her loose on some of my unsuspecting critics and decided to put her on the press box with my video guy. Ever the critic, even then she found a way to get her points across to me. Normally we graded our own video on Sundays before watching our opponent’s film and putting together a game plan. We rarely watched video with the audio on but for some reason this particular morning we did. I really was not paying attention to what was being said until Ray Riley, one of my assistants, asked if I had heard what had just been said on the audio. We reran the video and I heard the shrill and acidic voice of my beloved screeching like one of Macbeth’s witches: “Come on coach, why don’t you try running your other play.” Linda Gail was my greatest advocate but was also my greatest critic. For the past thirty years Linda has critiqued my every athletic decision which is the only type of decision she has ever let me make.

While she still coaches me, Linda Gail no longer coaches on her own court. I truly miss watching her coach basketball. I have never been a big fan of basketball because I was never very good at it and never coached it. Well there was that junior varsity girl’s team but that was Linda teaching me the day before I taught them. I once had a friend and fellow coach that described girl’s basketball in this manner: “There are three activities that should take place in private: “Prayer, couples involved in amorous activities and girl’s basketball.” While at one time I probably agreed with him, I had to take Linda Gail’s teams off of the list. Not because her teams were good, and they were always better than they should have been, but rather because of the way that she coached. Perpetually in motion, she coached everyone on her team for the entire game from start to finish, along with anyone else who could be reached by her voice; in other words, everyone in the gym. She also really looked good doing it. When Linda dressed for a game she wanted everyone to know that girl’s basketball coaches and players could be feminine. She was quite successful imparting this information. The worst rule ever enacted was restricting a coach to a coaching box. Why? It stopped me from getting to watch my wife, “dressed to the nines,” run up and down the out of bounds line yelling at someone other than me. The new rule also got her a technical foul or two because she just doesn’t like to be told what she can or cannot do.

My all time favorite memory of her and her teams involved one of her tennis teams. They were playing Clinton for the right to go to Columbia and face Myrtle Beach for the state championship. Because of previous weather conditions, the match had been postponed and both teams had to be packed and ready to go to Columbia immediately after the match. Riverside was supposed to win but sometimes tennis gods, like baseball gods, enjoy upsetting the ball cart. We lost. What do you do with a van full of girls, loaded with bags for a road trip? You invite them for a sleep over at your home. That is just what Linda Gail did. One guy in a farm house with seven teen age girls and a teen age girl want to be. Oh joy! It was a blast. We dined on pizza that evening, my breakfast that next morning and hiked all over the property that morning and afternoon. They even named our one legged and one eyed rooster, Boomer. It was a great way to get over a season ending loss.

Linda Gail and I have now been involved for nearly thirty years and I can still pick out her voice anywhere on an athletic field. The parents that help me at Northwest are in awe. “She coaches our kids, their kids, their coach and us,” one of my assistants exclaimed with a smile on his face. I find it comforting that she is still around to criticize my every decision as it relates to baseball. She even lets me make a few important non-baseball related decisions like, say, should I take out the garbage or should I walk down to get the mail. You know the really important stuff. The simple stuff, she takes care of, and that is just the way I like it.

And what about my second love? If I had a choice and could go back to any point in my career I would choose to go back to Tamassee-Salem. I felt at home and appreciated, maybe even loved there. The area hasn’t really changed and is still surrounded by great expanses of mostly nothing. Rumors are that she will close as a high school just as soon as new Walhalla High School is completed. My logical self probably agrees that it should. Greater choices of courses and services can be offered to the students now served by Tamassee-Salem. My illogical and emotional self disagrees with my logical self. Athletically most of the kids that play for Tamassee-Salem could not play anywhere else and the students would not get the one-on-one assistance available to them now. I guess that is no reason to keep a school open, but I did say it was my illogical self thinking. Unlike Odysseus, I am just glad I did not resist either of these siren calls.

“PEPSI COLA”-A LESSON IN PREJUDICE

In the early 1960’s our Southern heritage was being assaulted with Yankee government mandates to end “separate but equal” in favor of desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” The Deep South was deliberately dragging its feet. Alabama’s flamboyant governor George Wallace probably expressed our segregationist attitudes best when he attempted to stand up to that Yankee government exclaiming, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Our own native son and segregationist Strom Thurmond said, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.” Strom would even help lay the foundation for today’s modern GOP when he exchanged his Democratic blue for Republican red because Democratic President Lyndon Johnson stabbed the Solid South in the back by signing into law the Civil Right’s Act of 1964. Thurmond claimed it was in protest of big government and State’s Rights. Sound familiar? Wasn’t Strom a candidate for president on the Dixiecrat ticket? Since Strom’s defection the only Democratic presidential hopeful to take a majority of deep Southern states was Jimmy Carter from Georgia. Considering how well that turned out, I doubt that will happen again. Two years prior to the Civil Right’s Act of 1964, in 1962, the debate over the Confederate flag flying on the Capitol grounds would begin when the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia was raised over the Capitol Dome to commemorate the Civil War centennial…and to “shoot a bird” at the federal government’s attempts to push us toward desegregation.

Despite it being racist times I don’t remember my community being a racist hotbed. It certainly wasn’t a hotbed of racist rhetoric. There were plenty of pro-segregationist meetings in our little part of the world, though. Community meetings with the School Board, superintendent and principal were held in, what I thought back then, was the spacious auditorium of our school. I remember the principal and superintendent, along with the local school board fielding questions from a packed “white” house. One question that was never quite answered was “What are we going to do about those Negro ‘Bucks’ walking the hallways with our daughters?” I realize now how fearful some parents were that their daughters were going to be carried off and raped…or worse, that they might willingly walk off on their own before giving up their most prized gift—gasp!—gladly.

Despite this not being an original thought, I believe that race relations in South Carolina (you may insert racism) is the product of fear that has plagued South Carolina since slavery days when the slave population outnumbered the white population. That fear manifested itself in the “well-founded” terror of a potential slave revolt on one side or the prospect of reprisals caused by revolts on the other. In a few accounts, it would appear that reprisals were carried out because there might have been a brief thought of a revolt. This dread would be continued and intensified after the Civil War. Panic mounted over the contemplation of retaliations by the former slaves and that their “unbridled African passions” would be unleashed on our innocent white female population. (What were the African ladies doing?)

The centerpiece of our hate was the resentment by white supremacists, a majority of the white population throughout the South specifically and the US in general, that we were going to be groveling at the feet of black lawmakers. The old “loss of status bug-a-boo” was primary on the minds of old white “planter class” who had had the power and wanted it back. While some blacks were elected, all of that would change with the end of Reconstruction and the antebellum status quo would return and be maintained with De Jure legislation that became known as Jim Crow laws. Later this would be upheld with the Supreme Court railroad case Plessy v Ferguson which made “separate but equal” the law of the land and which intensified the trepidation and hate on both sides of our heritage.

Separate but equal did not seem to be a problem in Indian Land. It did not seem Brown’s “with all deliberate speed” could be an issue at this time but, for reasons that eluded my six-year-old mind, people were worried. We did not have a huge population of African-Americans and none of them were carrying spears or wearing leopard skins like in the Tarzan movies. They tended to live around Van Wyck, the brick making capitol of the state, or out past Uncle James’s farm which might as well have been in…deepest Africa. Maggie Cureton’s family lived way, way, way across the road and by the 1960’s they were long gone.

While I had seen African-American males I would not meet my first African- American adult male until the very late fifties when we remodeled our house. A black brick mason with the interesting name of “Pepsi Cola” Mobley was hired to add the brick veneer to our original home along with the two new rooms added onto each end.
“Pepsi Cola” was a stud, as were his two sons who served as helpers and apprentice brick layers. It was their responsibility to carry the bricks and “mud” to their father as he did the placing of the brick runs. I found the whole endeavor to be interesting but not nearly as interesting as the “colored” folk who were carrying out the tasks. The acorns did not fall far from the tree! Close-cropped “steel wool” hair over clear ebony skin; they possessed the whitest of stereotypical teeth below broad flat noses and wide cheekbones. All three were powerfully built with muscles bulging and glistening with sweat from handling and placing the bricks. “Pepsi Cola’s” decades of brick work had given him shoulders so wide I doubted his ability to walk through a door without turning sideways along with hands that were beaten, scarred and as rough as the slabs on the side of my grandparent’s barn. All three started the day in tattered yet clean tees and denim pants that had patches patched over patches. As the heat of the day intensified, shirts would be discarded exposing broad, powerful chests that were covered in tight black curly hair. Curiously, whenever my grandmother or mother stepped outside, there was a bit of a scramble to put their shirts back on. “Pepsi” was gregarious, singing Negro hymns and laughing his way through the day or “holding court” for anyone near by, which was usually the eight or nine-year old “little man” that was me. I found him to have the most interesting accent to go along with a lot of words that began with “dees” ended in “esses.” His sons were the exact opposite – quiet and, I would say, somewhat sullen. In hindsight, my guess is that there was little way to wedge a word in edgewise with “Pepsi Cola” around.

I learned a lesson of the times during the course of the remodeling. Sent to carry a jug of water out to the workers, I asked Mr. Mobley, “Mr. Mobley, would you like some water?” “Eyes do, Eyes do, indeeds, Little Man,” he answered with his best grin. In turn, I gave the sons water and returned to my grandmother who informed me of my grievous faux pas, “You don’t refer to ‘coloreds’ by mister unless you use their first name.” Okay, “Mister Pepsi Cola!”

For me and the rest of South Carolina, Separate but Equal would hold on tenaciously until my senior year when “token integration” was introduced. Over the next few years, mainly 1969 and 1970, full integration and busing would rule the day when made possible by the threat of losing federal funds instead of earlier threats of federal troops which could not help but bring back references to Reconstruction. Scenes of angry whites meeting buses carrying black children had been broadcast nationwide on our little black and white television since 1957 in Arkansas. Luckily these scenes were not played out in our little corner of the world; however, throughout the state white families fled their public schools, preferring instead to turn down federal subsidies and send their children to private schools bearing names of Confederate generals and politicians. Forty-five years later many of those “academies” still exist, especially in areas that can be described as socially and economically lacking and whose public schools are still predominantly black.

Most of our fears have not been realized. Our most prized possessions it would seem, our women, were not carried off and gang-raped by angry blacks. I guess some white supremacist would say that things are worse because there are A LOT of BIRACIAL folks walking the streets and country roads of the South today. I wonder by what means they got here? Oddly enough, there is even one in the White House! Could it be that most of us are finally overcoming our fears?

I wrote this in the language of the times and it was not meant to offend anyone…except racist and white supremacist. I hope I was successful.

Tale of the Swamp Rabbit continued or in this case Tails of the ….Crawfish

Honestly this did not take place on the Swamp Rabbit Trail but it occurred while running…sorta. Generally I don’t run in the afternoon. I just prefer to run in the morning, sometimes even before daylight. Before daylight I can’t see how far I’ve gone or how much longer or higher the hill is but this morning it was raining. Sometimes I run in the rain…that’s a lie, I never run in the rain unless I happen to get caught in a rainstorm when the weather people lie. Despite my displeasure of running in the afternoon, providence reared its head in the form of a three year old that Linda Gail offered to baby sit. Linda Gail offered so I felt no remorse when I decided it would be a great time to do a five mile run/walk, actually more walk than run with my bad knee.
I am used to seeing wildlife when I run even on the Rabbit. The overweight guy running bear chested in tight padded bicycle shorts, the girl in the sports bra that fits way to loosely…wait, that’s the wrong wildlife. When I run around my home I see a plethora of animals including snakes, turkeys, deer, foxes, the occasion stork or even a bear. Yes, I do stop to help turtles across the road. Luckily I saw the bear before he saw me. As I started to run behind a tree an elderly gentleman sitting on his porch across the road yelled, “You might want to wait a minute I just saw a bear and her cub go up that drive.” A mile and a half from home…yeah I can wait.
Today was a first. I have never seen a crawfish the size of a small lobster scooting across a road. In fact this is my first crawfish of any size scooting across a road. Don’t crawfish breathe with gills? I know we have had a lot of rain the last few days but seeing this guy on the road makes me want to look for high ground. Where was the boiling water and Old Bay when I need it! Oh yeah, “pop dem tails!”

BARNS AND BUTTERMILK

Sitting across the road from my house is an old red barn. Some one hundred and twenty years ago that same barn sat on land that was part of an original two-hundred-and-fifty acre tract of farm land formally known as the Bramlett land. By 1987, when the bank bought it and we signed over our lives to it, that original tract of land had shrunk to eighty-five acres which was eighty more acres than we were looking for. The rest had been dispersed to who knows where. I know that part of it was sold as a tract of land across the road because, at some moment in history, the original barn was separated from the farm house by what is known today as Scenic Highway 11 or the Cherokee Foothills Highway. My garden is located directly across the road from the barn and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t commit the deadly sin of envy because I covet that barn. I guess it could be worse; I could be coveting my neighbor’s wife.

I love old barns. I stop and take pictures of old barns and try to visualize how they would have looked in their “hay” day. I have even drawn plans for my own barn that I am going to build one of these days, if that day ever comes before the sands of the hourglass run out. I love what I would call old southern barns that aren’t tobacco barns, although even tobacco barns beat the gambrel or saltbox roof…for looks. For some reason I associate gambrel-roofed barns with the barbarian part of the world located above the Mason-Dixon Line. I’m sure that, for usable space, gambrel roofs allow you to put more hay in the loft but how much hay do you need for one horse and one cow. That was the barn of my youth. One plow horse and one milk cow were all we had and our barn didn’t have those nifty advertisements painted on the side either. “Visit Lookout Mountain”, “See Rock City” or “Drink Coca Cola” would have been nice but you could not have seen it from the road anyway.

My grandparents’ barn was a slab-sided barn. For the uneducated, slabs were the outer bark covered planks that were first trimmed from the log that is being processed. Because a log has a rounded surface, slabs cut from a log had one round side and one flat side. Since they were cut from different sized logs there was no rhyme or reason for their width. This made them only useful as barn siding or for burning in a wood stove or fireplace. We did both. My grandfather and his brother, Banks, ran a sawmill during the winter months to help make ends meet until my grandfather began working full time at Springs Mills. The sawmill itself consisted of a large rotating circular saw blade that was turned with a pulley belt attached to a very old tractor. I do not know this for sure but it makes the story in my head warmer to believe that PawPaw not only built the barn with his own hands but also built it from the lumber that he and his brother milled themselves. True or not that is the story that I have decided to believe.

As a child that barn seemed to be huge but, as I sit here as an adult, I realize it could not have been that big. It had only a pair of stalls on one side and a tack room and workshop on the other. It was separated by an entry way large enough to accommodate an old wagon and various plows, planters and a drag-harrow. Above it all was a loft that was a child’s dream of a playhouse…until I found the twenty-foot snake skin. Okay, it might have been a little shorter. Cowboys and Indians, war games and hide-and-seek were all played in and around that barn and in its loft. One game that almost got out of hand was played after seeing some old western movie where the hero jumps from the second-story balcony onto his horse and, without so much as a grunt, rides off after the desperados. My best bud decided he wanted to give it a try but because we didn’t have a second-story balcony or a horse at the time we decided to use the loft and his bicycle as stand-ins. That didn’t turn out too well and, thankfully, he jumped first while I was holding his bike. Ouch! Not that I was a chicken or anything but I decided quickly that I didn’t want to give it a try. I wonder if he ever had any children.

One of the first clear memories that I have as a child is of following Nannie into the barn at dark-thirty to milk the cow. Winter or summer, clear or rainy, it did not matter. The cow had to be milked and it was milked every morning before my grandfather returned from his third shift at Springs in his ’49 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. During the spring and summer, after a breakfast that always included fresh milk, biscuits, grits or oatmeal and eggs, he would trade the Olds for the plow horse and head to the fields before finally going to bed in the early afternoon to rest for his next shift that began at ten that night. My clear memory is of Nannie milking that cow while squatting on her heels in the manner that only country folks can seem to achieve. The memory must have been of an event that took place in winter because my memory is of the steam first rising from the water Nannie used to wash the cow’s udder and then from the milk itself as it hit the cold milk pail.

Before being refrigerated, the milk would be placed in a clear pitcher and allowed to separate. Cream would rise to the top and be skimmed off and used for baking or to “whiten” the bitter Luzianne coffee with chicory that my grandparents preferred. Of course, there would be the raw, unpasteurized milk for the rest of us. Once a week it would seem, leftover milk would be poured into a churn and turned into sweet, pale yellow butter and its byproduct, buttermilk, which unlike the butter, was not sweet at all. While I cook with it, buttermilk is not something that I have ever developed a taste for so, I guess I got lost on that particular path around home. I do remember meals that involved leftover cornbread crumbled in cold glasses of buttermilk. In my mind’s eye I see both of my grandparents wiping their mouths after finishing off a glass of buttermilk and smiling in such a way to make me believe it was the best liquid libation one could have. Eventually the “buttermilk gone bad” would be fed to the hogs. Periodically, I drink a little buttermilk just to remind myself that I still don’t like it and that I don’t really know how you tell if buttermilk has gone bad. Aside from what was used to make biscuits, it all could have gone to the hogs. Luckily, and for the most part, my youthful memories are as rich as the raw unpasteurized sweet milk in my grandmother’s milk pail. There are only a few memories that remind me of the soured buttermilk we fed to the hogs.

SONG OF THE SOUTH

I really can’t think of anything that I dislike about living in the South…ummmm…humidity and mosquitoes can be found anywhere. Right? And sometimes we only have two seasons – “damn cold to damn hot”… in just the blink of an eye. I remember a “damn yankee” football player from the early 90’s who had joined us from one of the “I” states, Indiana I think, and who, before our first August football practice, explained to me that “I can handle the heat. It gets hot in Indiana, too.” An hour later, after his eyes had rolled back in his head, I was cooling him off with ice water soaked towels and forcing him to take sips of Gatorade. Yes, it does get hot in Indiana but, “It ain’t the heat here. It’s the humidity!”

Mosquitoes are just a fact of life in the South and I praise God that they don’t grow to the size of vultures. On a trip to the coast I remember making an impromptu nature call where the only facility available was an old fire road in the middle of a pine forest off Highway 17. As I completed my task, I looked down to insure nothing got caught in the zipper and could see a cloud of mosquitoes attempting to make off with my man part. Itchy and it was in November! #*&%^*! And I did zip up too quickly!
So, heat, humidity and mosquitoes not withstanding, I love everything about the “real South”…although sometimes I have had a hard time finding the real South that hides in the paradoxes that we, as Southerners, seem to embrace…or ignore. A quote made by many – “We prepare our tea with hot water, then cool it off with ice, sweeten it with lots of sugar and then add lemon to make it sour” -illustrates just one of those paradoxes. So in regard to the “real South”, it is hard to find something when you are not sure what to look for.

Most of my education about this “real South” came via a black and white TV or books, although there were a few trips to the Center Theater in Fort Mill or the drive-ins located in Rock Hill or Lancaster. I remember seeing the movie To Kill a Mockingbird with my parents as a pre-teen and I certainly did not understand the dynamics of the movie until I read the book as a young adult. Even then most of the dynamics escaped me. In the Heat of the Night was another movie with the same dynamics. By 1967 I understood the racism and the Jim Crow laws that went with it but, because of the home of my youth, I paid little attention to those dynamics. I hate to admit that I did not see Gone with the Wind until college. After reading the book I wondered how it actually found its way to the silver screen. For those of you who live above the Mason-Dixon Line, the mansion Tara, Scarlett, Rhett and Ashley, along with dozens of happy slaves that went with the movie, was just the way it really was— wink, wink— in the “real South.” One of my favorite movies, despite the fact that I grew up on the wrong side of the equation, was the John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers and Althea Gibson vehicle The Horse Soldiers. I believe it did capture the best and worst of both sides during the later part of the Rebellion, including the gallantry and brutality on both sides. The scene based upon a real life attack by the Virginia Military Cadets still sends chills up and down my spine. Ah! There are those pesky words: REAL LIFE. At least the movie scene ended with only a spanking instead of the deaths that did occur at the Battle of New Market in May of 1864.

For some reason, probably out of boredom, I picked up one of my father’s novels – a historical romance novel that took place near Antebellum New Orleans entitled The Foxes of Harrow by Frank Yerby. Later I also read its sequel The Vixen and several of his other works. I don’t know if it was the underlying eroticism or the fact it was a historical novel (I’m pretty sure it was the underlying eroticism!) but I was hooked. I believe that it colored my thinking, especially when I read and saw Gone with the Wind. There were no stereotypical and happy, “Aw shucks, Massa” darkies in Yerby’s books. It would be much later that I would realize that Yerby was bi-racial. A Georgian who experienced enough racism to leave his country for Spain, he would posthumously be inducted as a member of the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame. Paradoxes again; I would guess?

The South that I grew up in was as far from Tara as it was from the sun, even on the hottest day. It certainly wasn’t The South I read about. The South I grew up in would have been more like Mayberry without a main street and could have been portrayed in “Song of the South,” by Alabama not the Disney movie by the same name. That movie took place during Reconstruction and has been accused of being racist because of such characters as “The Tar Baby.” Because of this alleged racism I haven’t seen it in years even though I find myself singing “Zippidy Doo Dah” on occasion. This example almost makes my point that we need to recognize the paradoxes of our history that include racism and segregation. That history is as diametrically opposed as my home and Tara. The mansions and associated lifestyle, the fine gentlemen and beautiful women, along with the happy slaves that were portrayed in these movies and many of the books that I read, seemed to be a far cry from the people and farms that I envision from the window of my mind. There certainly were few, if any, African-Americans, stereotypical or not. My history or my heritage, the story of my grandparents and parents, would be better portrayed in Alabama’s words:

“Cotton on the roadside, cotton in the ditch
We all picked the cotton but we never got rich
Daddy was a veteran, a southern democrat
They oughta get a rich man to vote like that
Sing it…
Song, song of the south
Sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth
Gone, gone with the wind
There ain’t nobody looking back again”

Unfortunately after the Charleston massacre and the firestorm that erupted around the Confederate Battle Flag, it would appear that we are looking back again and some are singing “Away, Away, Away Dixieland.”

Common Ground

Excerpt from “Winning Was Never the Only Thing…”

“There is a long hair that doesn’t like the short hair
For being’ such a rich one, that will not help the poor one
Different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and Scooby dooby doo-bee
Oh, shasha, we got to live together”
“Everyday People”-Sly and the Family Stone

I was not a happy camper. As I returned from my early Sunday morning run I had gotten a text from former player and student Jamie Bennett. He was preaching at his childhood church, Gethsemane National Baptist Church. Jamie would be described, according to my religious upbringing, as a Lay Minister. He does not have a divinity degree and is not ordained in a traditional sense although within his own church he has been ordained. Jamie is also a very good preacher and a true man of God. So why was I not a happy camper? After all it had been my intention to go to church after completing my run this Father’s Day. It was because he is a BLACK man of God. What do I have against black men of God? Nothing except that they attend black churches whose services tend to run very, very long . . . and then some. I knew my wife was not going to let me out of this one. Well to be honest, my conscience was not going to let me out of it either. Being invited meant a lot to me and going was more important than an early lunch and an afternoon sitting in the sun. I just hoped my stomach would agree with me.

Both Jamie and his brother Boo, or Carolus as he is now known, played for me at Riverside. Both were pitchers, both were outfielders and they both had their struggles hitting pitches that bent. During the late Seventies and early Eighties I had taught with Jamie’s and Carolus’s mother Carol Ann. My wife knew them and the rest of the family, which is quite large and if not extended, tightly intertwined. Linda Gail had taught most of the Bennett-Brooks clan elementary physical education. Linda Gail and mother Carol Ann developed a bond that gradually expanded to include both sides of the Bennett-Brooks family: grand parents, dads, sister, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and many cousins, who were, in some cases, many generations removed. This is a huge family. They rent motels and cordon off city blocks when they have their family reunions and it seems Linda Gail taught them all. More importantly, they are tight. Mess with one and you find yourself messin’ with them all, especially the sisters and sisters-in-law. By the time younger brother Carolus had come along, Linda and Carol Ann’s bond had strengthened to the point of a sisterhood of sorts. So in honesty, my relationship with the family expanded when I came along for the ride as Linda became Grandmother Chancey’s adopted daughter.

Okay, I was wrong. I cannot totally come back to Jamie and his family until I give you some personal history and further confessions. This story really has less to do with religion but has everything to do with cultural differences which involve religion and a gazillion other diverse variances between the races. It is called diversity, right?
I was a child in the fifties and a teen in the sixties and am a product of all the prejudices that were taught to me during that period. Even though my family was one of the least prejudiced that I knew of, I do not say that with pride because they were still prejudiced. I recognized that there was a separation between the races in addition to cultural differences even if I didn’t quite understand them. Watching the nightly news I saw buses burned, church bombings and fire hoses along with German Shepherds turned loose on masses of black people while I attempted to enjoy my Birdseye TV dinner. It did not make me particularly proud to be a white person whether I understood the dynamics or not. Now that I understand the dynamics, I have spent the better part of fifty years trying to both get over and to atone for my prejudices. Most of the time I have been successful although there have been times that I have reverted back to the prejudiced hick I don’t want to be. The good news is that unlike a lot of the other prejudiced hicks, I feel bad about it when it happens, pray for forgiveness, and thankfully, my prejudices rear their ugly heads less and less as time marches on.
Much of my racial understanding is as conflicted as is my racial make up, which I am certain, is made up of all recognized races except Oriental – and who knows, I do have a love of Chinese food.

Nannie’s best fishing friend in addition to being part time hired help, Maggie Cureton, was “colored” and in my mind’s eye I can still see them both sitting under a shade tree gutting and scaling their catch, joking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. It was the same when there was ironing or wash to be done. They had a lot in common. Both had lived hard before and during the Great Depression and had lost their husbands earlier than they would have liked. Before and during the depression, Nannie and Pawpaw had farmed “on the lien” while Miss Maggie and family were sharecroppers. Either way their lot was a hard way to make a living. While Nannie treated Miss Maggie as if she were white, I was once taken to task over referring to black brick mason Pepsi Cola Mobley, which was probably not his real name, as Mr. Mobley. Nannie informed me that you didn’t refer to “coloreds” as Mister. Miss Maggie, Mr. Mobley, Confliction! Maybe I should have called him Mister Pepsi Cola.

It is hard to understand and easy to fear what you have never interacted with. I had little interaction with other races during my pre-teaching years. Occasionally I played with the Cureton grandchildren but it was rare, and it certainly did not increase when I went off to primary school. Despite the Brown vs. Board of Education court ruling, blacks and whites did not attend school together. Here in South Carolina and in most of the Deep South, when our state governments heard “with all deliberate speed” we focused upon deliberate rather than speed. So, as I entered the first grade in 1956, my class was “lily white.” The Cureton grandchildren were bused eighteen miles away to an all black school. It was still that way when I entered junior high school and high school and did not change until my senior year when “token” integration was forced upon the state by that “Yankee” government in Washington. The eighth grade Springs twins, Charles and Leroy, became our “tokens.” Nothing changed when I went off to college either. Newberry College was so white it would blind you in bright sunlight. I did work with a few African Americans but even in the cotton mill in the sixties and seventies, African Americans were few and far between and all were older adults. Even as I developed friendships in my teaching career, I felt that there was always a wall of distrust that kept friendships from developing as deeply as they might have. Thankfully by the time I had gotten to the end of my career that had changed. There I developed deep friendships with people of many races; most that I hope will survive for the rest of my life.

Jamie was not the first African American that I coached nor was younger brother Carolus the last. I have been lucky to coach many fine young men, some who just happened to be black. Because of Linda’s relationship with Carol Ann, Carolus and Jamie became the first that I developed a relationship and understanding with that went deeper than the classroom or athletic field. With most of my players, white, black or in between, I keep up with those that I can, enjoy the interaction when we cross paths and consider them all to be special, but basically they have their lives and I have mine. That is not the case with Jamie and Carolus. They are a part of my life and I am proud of what they have accomplished. It has also led to understanding. When I say black now, it is simply an easy way to describe who I am talking about. You know, “The black kid that pitched for me back in the early nineties that gave up that gonzo shot to Chad Roper” or the black kid who was an All State singer, church goer, and outstanding student, diligent son to his sick and dying father and a rock of strength to his mother. In other words, the great kid who just happens to be black.

The same thing could be said about Carolus although our understanding may have taken longer and it was not my fault. Carolus lived on my route home so it was inevitable that, by mutual agreement between Linda Gail and Carol Ann, I would be enlisted to become a taxi and would drop him off from practices. What ensued was a very long, silent and for me uncomfortable five mile drive. Carolus would not speak unless spoken to and then would only answer in the shortest possible manner. The only Carolus-initiated communication was the “Thank you” that I got when he exited my truck, and I got one every time I dropped him off. I should point out that I am quite sure that listening to Willie Nelson and George Jones while riding around in a big Ford four by four made for an uncomfortable trip for a young black male as well. With adulthood, all of that has changed except for his thank yous.

These drives were not quite as uncomfortable as I remember the first Bennett Fourth of July party my wife and I attended. It was a lesson on what it is like to be in a minority and the way that I am sure a lot of my black friends and acquaintances felt when they showed up for parties hosted and attended mostly by whites. It did not help that I knew maybe ten of the fifty plus people there and the only person that I would guess to be more uncomfortable would be the “lady of ill repute sitting on the front pew at church.” I don’t think that I imagined the stares and silence that greeted us as we came through the door. I am sure there were a few questions like “Who are they and why are they here?” running through some people’s minds. With introductions and explanations this changed, but that wall I talked about earlier was still firmly in place. Over the years, the party has become much more comfortable. I am sure that the walls of distrust still exist but believe that many holes have been opened up in it. As I sat and gorged myself on pulled pork and ribs along with some of the best potato salad of all time, I became involved in conversation with Uncle Butch, a member of my generation. It did not take long to realize that we did not grow up much differently despite our skin color. Our roots were stuck firmly in the soil and the textiles that were produced from it. The only difference was the color of our skin and the distrust fostered by slavery, Jim Crow and the racism that is still evident today. Funny odd, now, twenty years or so later, if we are unable to attend the party for some reason, our absence is a source of concern.

Today I look at racial diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding. I thank the Bennett’s friendship for that.

Incidentally, the service that Jamie preached was wonderful and thought provoking. Brother Carolus sang, large portions of the Brooks-Bennett family were in attendance and the service was uplifting and motivating in every way. I think every person there shook my hand and wished me a happy Fathers Day. Their pastor gave me a huge bear hug and has been in contact twice since the service. Truthfully, we did “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” and because of that I don’t remember it being a longer service than normal. In fact, it might not have been long enough.
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