Morning Story and Dilbert

Morning Story and Dilbert Vintage Dilbert
December 16, 1994

Last December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations – extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.

My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six year old. For weeks, he’d been memorizing songs for his school’s “Winter Pageant.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d be working the night of the production. Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She assured me there’d be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.

So, the morning of the dress rehearsal…

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TimTiesCloseupI finally gave away the last of Tim’s ties last week. These were my special favorites, a group I have held onto since Tim died. I always enjoyed seeing them in my closet, sort of smiling at me like old friends.

A friend came over to help me clean out closets recently. When I started pulling out clothes to donate that I knew I’d never wear again, there were those lovely ties. Ties that someone else could wear and enjoy, as Tim had so many times.

If I didn’t give them up now, I knew I probably never would. So I did.

I may just print one of these images, tape it to a prominent spot in my office and let them smile at me right on.

Here is a photo showing Tim wearing one of those ties… in most photos he’s not wearing a tie so I’m glad I found this one. It was taken at a breakfast prayer meeting we hosted for Governor David Beasley.


Talk With Bette Radio


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Radio studio interview“Talk With Bette” went on the air on radio WOLS-1230 in the fall of 2000. Every Friday morning I interviewed three interesting people for twenty minutes each. Medical and business CEO’s, housewives and politicians might be on the morning’s agenda.

College deans, mayors, businessmen and women came to talk with Bette about whatever might be going on in their world or coming up in the community. Subjects ranged from health care to gospel concerts, from Boy Scout projects to Red Cross blood drives.

My motto was – and still is – “If it interests me, it will interest you.”

Established here in my hometown of Florence, South Carolina in 1937, WOLS-1230 was a family-oriented station featuring nationally syndicated shows such as Focus on the Family, as well as local programs hosted by churches or civic groups. Talk shows were interspersed with golden oldies, beach and gospel music.

For many years WOLS aired the Holiday Show, named for the Holiday Inn Restaurant where the program first aired. For 90 minutes a day, Doug Williams and a co-hostess greeted folks around the breakfast table. Local residents or national personalities traveling through town, politicians to movie stars would stop by to chat informally with Doug about any and everything.

In between interviews Doug tuned into music while new guests got comfortable with a cup of hot coffee. The Holiday Show was hugely popular. Anybody who was anybody throughout South Carolina and many just traveling along the East Coast sought to be Doug’s guest. For a few years he switched to television, but eventually Doug returned the Holiday Show to WOLS, sometimes broadcasting remotely from a local restaurant, sometimes directly from the studio.

In the late 1980’s Tim and I signed up as grass-roots volunteers for several conservative, prolife causes and candidates. We always looked for time slots on radio stations where we and our candidates could discuss the issues of the day.

No Lottery 2000 was one of those issues. Working to defeat the lottery in South Carolina, we supported like-minded candidates for local and state-wide offices. And, as the campaigns progressed towards the fall election, Tim called WJMX-970, a radio station that had always welcomed candidates to be interviewed by Tom Kinard on Kinard and Koffee, a morning drive-time show that reached a wide segment of our state’s population.

Tim confidently called Tom to arrange interview times. But Tom had bad news – the station had a new manager with a new policy for Kinard and Koffee: nothing political, nothing controversial. Definitely nothing anti-lottery.

Well, there was still WOLS. A lower signal station, it had a smaller listening audience – but every voter counts, right? Except that Doug Williams had retired just the week before. After forty years on the air, the Holiday Show was no more.

We were very unhappy, to say the least. One candidate wasn’t just unhappy, he was thoughtful, and determined. He called WOLS himself to ask – suppose we find a replacement for Doug Williams? Would you put the Holiday Show back on the air? The station manager okayed the idea. All we’d have to do is find a host, find the guests, and find the sponsors. Simple.

The candidate enthusiastically called me. “You’d be perfect, Bette. You could do this, no problem. Will you?”

But the Holiday Show was daily, 90 minutes each day. It wasn’t feasible for me to leave working in our business that long every day. And Doug had a program manager, plus someone to handle the technical end of remote broadcasting. I had no expertise, no experience, not even a basic working knowledge of radio broadcasting. It’s impossible, I argued.

“We’ll get all that done, just say you’ll do it!” He and Tim urged, nagged and pleaded.

Reluctantly I agreed to host a one-hour show, one day a week. No music, just talk. Friday mornings, the slowest day of the work week for me. No remotes, we would broadcast from the sound booth in the station. Okay? The station manager said okay and made plans to begin the show immediately, even before we rounded up some sponsors.

But what to call it? We couldn’t keep the Holiday Show name, not without Doug. Talk With Bette was born. A fellow who worked for the station would be my on-air engineer. The station manager selected some intro music, recorded a professional-sounding voice-over for it, and by the next Friday we went on the air – all within a week of my saying yes. I still don’t see how we pulled that off…

Tim proved to be an excellent program manager. Well known throughout the Pee Dee himself, he had no problems whatsoever persuading people to come talk with Bette, live on the air. Our very first guests were candidates, naturally. To avoid troubles with the FCC and FEC, we invited all candidates, no matter the party or the issue. (The strangest thing: only the candidates we supported agreed to come.)

From band concerts to college enrollment, from fund-raising for the United Way to Little Theater plays – not to mention the lottery and the elections, of course – people came to talk about it. If someone wanted to air their opinion, advertise their event, plug their new business or promote their candidate, they called Tim. Several sponsors soon came on board, and now we had commercial breaks for guests to swap chairs.

My nosy nature and extensive preparations for every single interview kept things interesting. The atmosphere was laid back and casual, like visiting with a neighbor across their kitchen table. People who had been nervous about filling up twenty minutes were amazed how fast the time went. They often wanted to come back and continue the conversation another day, and we often scheduled just that.

One of my first guests on the lottery question was Armstrong Williams, who called in from his own studio in Washington, DC. One early program included two invited guests, Bill Monroe, pastor of the largest church in Florence, and former Governor David Beasley. I asked one opening question about the upcoming lottery vote, but for the rest of the hour they chatted with each other, asking questions and discussing that subject and other issues of the day.

I had to reschedule our third guest, who really didn’t mind – he was sitting in the room with us, enjoying the conversation. It was wonderful.

Of course, glitches and hitches arose occasionally. (Not often, thankfully.) One day my first guest was a lady who operated a private, no-kill animal shelter out in the county. She arrived early and we chatted quite easily about her love of animals, how the shelter operated and their constant need for donations. I took notes as we talked.

The moment the show went live, however, she froze up. She became terrified of the microphone and could not speak above a whisper. It was a good thing I had just asked her everything I really needed to know, so my on-air questions became lengthy and full of information. She could basically just say “yes” or “no.” When the segment ended, she apologized profusely, I patted her shoulder and said it was okay – and it was, but she never came back.

Another day a guest didn’t show up until the very end of the program. She’d had car trouble and no way to let me know.  But my prepared notes had enabled me to do her segment without her, introducing her topic and discussing it as though I was talking to a class of students.

One state senator running for re-election turned his face away from me as soon as I introduced him. Puzzled, I could not catch his eye to ask any of my questions. He just began to talk, and talk, and talk – spouting a canned campaign speech. He didn’t even seem to take a breath the whole time. When his twenty minutes were up, he rose, said thank you and walked out. I never invited him back.

As the program’s listener base grew, we acquired regular guests who appeared on a monthly basis, and Talk With Bette became fairly well known throughout the Pee Dee.

Then one day in 2003, the station management changed and with it, so did the format. Family-oriented no longer, WOLS would become “The Sports Animal,” switching to an all-sports format. Some local shows would be maintained, the new manager informed me, but with new time slots. Mine was one of those.

I could come in on Friday and interview guests as usual, he said, but the program would be recorded, not aired live. It would be broadcast on Saturday, perhaps in the early morning hours, perhaps the middle of the day, “We’ll let you know when.”

Unsure how such a drastic difference would be received by our listening audience, I said I’d have to think about it, talk to Tim about it, and let him know.

The next Friday I overheard the manager say to one of my guests that WOLS now had a website, something he’d never mentioned to me. Checking it out at home later I found many questionable “adult” images. Sports-related though they were, to me they bordered on x-rated.

That was my last program on WOLS. Tim and I thanked the new station manager for the offer, but felt it would be better for Talk With Bette to end while it was ahead.

Soon thereafter, at Tim’s instigation and the invitation of Brenda Harrison, Editor of the News Journal, I began writing a weekly newspaper column titled Family Memories. Some articles were a result of interviews I had done with local personalities, others contained my own memories of life growing up in South Carolina. The time I had spent talking, I now spent writing.

The column had an excellent few years before gradually slowing to a natural conclusion after Tim died in 2006. Two of my current blogs, Talk With Bette and S.C. Family Memories, are media outlets of a different sort to share information, thoughts, ideas and opinions.

I enjoyed my days on the radio, meeting and talking with so many fascinating folks from around the state and nation. I enjoyed writing the column, and I still enjoy writing the blogs as you may have guessed. Thanks so much for reading this post, if you’ve gotten this far… it’s been really good to reminisce.


Mother’s Day is coming up


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MamaAndHatAndCoatAndGlovesReducedThere’s so much to notice in this photograph, taken by my photographer father on some special occasion – perhaps even Mother’s Day. Click on it to enlarge. I remember that apartment on West Palmetto Street, upstairs in a large two-story house just a few doors down from the intersection with Coit Street. Only commercial buildings are located in that block now.

Mother’s Day brings back so many memories…

Mama died in 1970. Mama’s mother, my grandmother Mimi, died in 1973. Daddy’s mother died when I was only two and I have no memories of her at all, but I wish they were all still here to celebrate Mother’s Day with me. Here’s a slightly re-arranged post from several years ago, copied from my blog S.C. Family Memories.

When I was small I loved to make Mother’s Day cards for mama. Even if I had purchased something I still made the cards for her. Usually they were multi-layer creations: when you opened the first page, there was a smaller page glued inside, and another inside that. Each page featured a hand-drawn, crayon-colored picture, maybe a flower or a heart, and each page said “I Love You, Mama.” I might spend several hours with scissors, rubber cement and crayolas, sometimes starting over several times until I got my masterpiece just right.

After she died in 1970 I came across an old pasteboard box with the flaps folded into each other. Prying it open I discovered my birth certificate, baby clothes, baby book, old report cards, piano recital programs, and handfuls of those home-made cards I’d given her. It looked like she had saved every one I’d ever made. I sat there a long time, fingering those little pages and re-reading each one. I think about that a lot these days when Mother’s Day rolls around.


Here’s another great photo of mama taken by daddy, not sure where. It may have been taken in Florence, but could have been anywhere from Newport News, Virginia to Albuquerque, New Mexico, places where they were stationed during WWII.

A while back I wrote that everything I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten. That’s not completely true. I also learned a great many things from my mother and grandmother, my aunts, from Sunday School teachers, public school teachers, the mothers of friends, and a lot of other women.

The main one, though, was mama. Mama always worked outside the home. Before I was born she did clerical work on the military bases where Daddy was stationed. After I was born she worked in an office downtown. Bad parenting? No, economics. My brother and I didn’t consider it being “deprived;” it was just the way things were.

But when mama was home in the evenings and on weekends, we were learning things. Like chores. Chores were divvied up like pieces of a pie. Our house, no matter where we lived, had white woodwork. Today a lot of houses lack woodwork around doors and windows. Saves on housework, that’s for sure. Our semi-gloss woodwork collected stray fingerprints and smudges like a magnet. Amongst laundry-folding, furniture-dusting and trash-emptying, removing “not white” marks from door jambs and windowsills was a weekly responsibility.

Washing dishes was my daily duty after school. There weren’t many plates and forks to wash but oh those pots and pans! Steel wool time. Every afternoon I dillied and dallied until it was nearly time for mama’s car to drive up before I ran the dishwater. Seldom did I get an early start and have the kitchen spick and span before her arrival home. Soon it was time to peel something like onions or potatoes, slice something like cucumbers or tomatoes, or grate something, like cheese. Cheese for cheese biscuits, cheese for macaroni and cheese, cheese for cheese grits, any of which was a favorite on the supper menu; or cabbage for cole slaw, which wasn’t.

In between chores, mama taught us the three R’s, particularly reading, from the time we could hold one of those thick-paged baby books. While my grandmother Mimi subscribed to every magazine she could think of, mama loved books. There were library books, new and used paperbacks and hardback books on many different subjects. How-to books on electricity, plumbing and math, informational books on Southern Snakes or Southern Skies, science fiction books by Isaac Asimov et al and Christian books by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale — everywhere you looked there was a book or two on an end table. Reading for themselves and reading to us was as natural to my parents as preparing meals or paying bills. You just did it.

Mama also loved piddling around the house, piddling around the yard, and piddling around the sky. That’s how she put it. She encouraged us to piddle too. “I’m just piddling,” she’d say as she stitched something up, like old draperies to make sofa cushions, or old skirts to make aprons.

“I’m just piddling,” she’d say as she planted marigolds and zinnias, chrysanthemums and asters in neat graduated rows against the front yard fence. She’d explain about ladybugs and garden snails, and why some weeds were fine and some were not. She’d never just pull up a dandelion, she’d solemnly explain if you blow the thing to smithereens and scatter all those fluffy seeds, which yes indeed did look like fun, there would be zillions of them next year stealing all the good nutrients from the pretty zinnias, see?

“I’m just piddling,” mama would say as she lugged out the telescope to watch sputnik go over on a clear night. (I wonder how many households owned a telescope in those days.) “Come look, the stars are so pretty tonight. And would you make me a milkshake and bring it when you come?” I’d carefully measure out a spoonful of vanilla flavoring, stir two spoonfuls of sugar into a tall glass of milk, drop in several ice cubes and join mama’s sputnik-watching, or Big-Dipper watching, or man-in-the-moon watching.

When I needed spending money over and above my weekly allowance, mama taught me how to do office work. She’d bring home box-fulls of envelopes and letters, show me the proper way to fold a page in thirds and stuff it in an envelope, then the easy way to seal a batch of stuffed envelopes. Fan the flaps out so only the gummed part of each one is showing, then run a damp sponge across all the flaps at once and quickly flip each flap into place. Nothing to it. She’d pronounce my work acceptable and pay me a dollar or so. We’d discuss many things while we worked, school, friends, hair styles, grades, books, newspaper articles, homework assignments — come to think of it, school got into our conversation a lot in those days.

Mama was a classroom volunteer and for some reason I don’t remember what exactly she did. Maybe she brought cookies or something, who knows. One thing I do remember, though. She was voted the prettiest mother in the 8th grade at Poynor. I was dumbfounded to learn my classmates adored my mother. I knew I adored my mama, but I had no idea anybody else’s kids did too. I was impressed!

There are lots more memories but for now, here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of all ages, to those who still have their mothers or grandmothers with them, and to those who, like me, wish they did.

40 year adventure


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FlamesBackI celebrated a 40-year anniversary this past Tuesday… April 15, 1974 was the date. You can read about it on one of my other blogs, Esther’s Petition, if you’re interested:

The last part of that post from 2011 reads, “I realized that the events of that night were an answer to my prayer for help. I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened to me, or if anyone else on the planet had ever had a similar experience. But I was determined to find out.”

I have spent the last 40 years finding out. It has been an adventure, to say the least. Other posts in Esther’s Petition catalog some of that adventure.

So why am I writing these thoughts over here, on this blog? This is where I used to jot down musings, opinions and advice about politics among other things. I say used to, because I don’t write the same way I did some time ago. I don’t spend my time the same way. I don’t read the same things, watch the same television shows, go to movies the way I used to.

The adventure of life in the Holy Spirit means that your life isn’t really yours to direct any more. That was the very first thing I learned, taking spiritual baby steps as I struggled to walk a whole different way.

It was almost like when I had the old-fashioned flu in high school. I was out of classes for two full weeks at the end of the first semester that year. When the fever finally disappeared and I could think straight again, my strength began to return but I’d forgotten how to walk.

I had trouble balancing when I stood upright. Taking slow steps, I wobbled, fell against the walls and had to hold on to the furniture. Always I needed to be supported by somebody’s arm as I went. It took another week or so before I could return to school.

In April 1974, though, I had no-one else’s arm to support me. At first I didn’t think anyone else in the world would know or understand what had happened to me. Then as the days went on I began to realize I was being led to do things that wouldn’t naturally occur to me, from the inside out.

For instance, driving home from work one afternoon I felt I should go down East Palmetto Street, not the Pamplico Highway. Passing a particular block, I had an urge to turn into the parking lot of a Christian bookstore. Okay, I thought, this is strange, but I did it.

Inside the store I was greeted by a friendly clerk, browsed down a few aisles, and suddenly one book “lit up” on the shelf as though it was illuminated from within. That book? “The Holy Spirit and You” by Dennis Bennett. I read that book straight through late into the night. All my questions were being answered, in language easy to understand.

Other books soon joined that one, and at that bookstore I began to meet other believers who had also received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. There was an ongoing revival in the Pee Dee area, I learned, with an outpouring of miracles, signs and wonders.

Many things took place in the ensuing years, some of which were very unpleasant, some of which were quite wonderful. recounts some of the more mundane activities of those years.

I experienced quite a few miracles, signs and wonders in my own life as I learned how to hear more clearly and follow more accurately the voice of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Back to why I’m writing these thoughts over here, on this blog… the world has changed a great deal in a short time. Time itself seems to be accelerating. Disturbances in the atmosphere, disturbances in global infrastructure such as earthquakes and volcanoes, disturbances in economic and geopolitical dynamics — all are occurring more and more frequently.

Natural and man-made disasters, new deadly diseases, chaos, panic, revolutions, famine, fires, floods, you name it. And persecution of Christians on an unprecedented scale is happening more and more, too.

A year or so ago I awoke one morning to find my interests completely changed. My attention had been totally diverted as I slept. As I got out of bed and headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, I could tell something was quite different in my frame of mind. I simply wasn’t interested in the usual stuff, like the TV murder mystery reruns I usually watched in the mornings.

Instead I wanted to watch and read the global news, consider the spiritual significance of whatever I saw, and intercede. The next day was the same, and the next. Soon I discovered that an amazing worldwide miracle revival is going on in many nations. I began to follow those, watching every service I could find that was being broadcast live or available on videotape.

My time has being spent differently since that day. Listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice, watching and praying is what I do most. Laundry, vacuuming, interceding. Studying a scripture passage, worshiping, praising, and praying. Reading the morning paper, watching TV news, and praying. Buying groceries or gas, greeting and praying for store clerks or other shoppers.

Always looking through Jesus’ eyes, or letting him look through mine, I’m not really sure which, I’m looking for opportunities to smile, speak a word, offer a hand or a hug, pray silently, even out loud sometimes (with permission, of course). Sometimes that’s in church, sometimes it’s in the marketplace.

Several months ago a friend and I went to lunch at the Olive Garden. A waitress helping another table suddenly turned, looked straight at me and said, “I have a terrible ear infection.” Now, this wasn’t our waitress. I didn’t know her at all and had never seen her before to my knowledge, but I reached out my hand to her.

She took my hand and I just said, “Be healed.” Touching her ear she said, “Really?” I said, “Really.” She thanked me, turned back to helping her own customers and my friend and I went on with our lunch. I haven’t seen that waitress since but I know a God-incidence when I see one. There have been others like that over this past year, one just this past week.

Mornings nowadays find me checking internet news from around the world, reading and writing Twitter and Facebook feeds, and praying. Not just praying whatever seems to me like a good spiritual idea, however; praying or commanding or declaring over the particular situation whatever the Lord wants. Often they aren’t at all the same thing.

And meeting many new people online and in person. Corresponding and praying with people I may never meet in the flesh, sharing in what we believe is an end-times scenario.

It’s been a fascinating 40 years, I must say.

Still missing Tim, seven years in heaven now

Reprinted from post published shortly after Tim’s death.

Photograph taken by Bette in their living room just a few days before Tim died.

Dear Friends,

I’d like to thank you for all the expressions of love and sympathy Tim’s family and I have received since his death on December 15th (2006).

Many folks have asked if Tim died as a result of all the health problems he’d had over the years and that’s partly true, I guess. (See The Tim Cox Story

Tim fell here at home on Wednesday, December 13th and broke his left leg close to the hip. On Thursday they operated to fix the leg and he had a heart attack in the Recovery Room. Although the doctors did everything medically possible to save him they could not get his blood pressure back up to anything near normal. Tim’s tired heart finally just gave out and stopped on Friday afternoon.

Psalm 91 was given to Tim’s mother by the Lord as an encouragement many years ago, and it promises long life to those who set their love upon the Lord. Tim was only 60 years old and that’s not really a long life to most people. It certainly didn’t seem long enough to me. But for Tim whose body had undergone so many attacks and challenges over his lifetime, it actually was.

Tim was the most courageous, kind, loving, and determined man I ever knew. He was my very best friend almost from the moment we met. Only my Lord Jesus Christ has ever been closer to me, and I miss Tim dreadfully. But today Tim can see, has both his legs, all his fingers and a strong heart, and I believe he is experiencing the greatest of joy with his Lord and with those who arrived in heaven before he did.

Some have said he’s playing his French horn with the heavenly orchestra, others have said he’s probably water skiing or driving his 280Z (if there is a way to do that in heaven), dancing, playing tennis, telling funny stories and all those other things Tim loved to do at some time in his life on earth. His daughter Angie said he’s probably already been elected President of some group, organizing ways to help somebody else! They may all be right.

And he is meeting and greeting family and friends who went ahead of him, especially his grandmother and his dad, but many others who Tim loved. Tim’s spiritual gifts included helping a multitude of other people and encouraging everyone he knew whether they were close friends or new acquaintances. I told someone that Tim could make a friend out of a wrong number, and that was true. He even put one lady who had dialed the wrong number on hold, then used our business line to get her the right number.

When I am tempted to feel sorry for myself, my heart hears a little voice telling me to “Look forward, not back.” I am striving to do that, to look forward as I work to make the Lord —- and Tim -— proud of the way I live my life from this point.

A number of people have asked me about the Family Memories column. Actually, my writing it was Tim’s idea in the first place. I think he would like for me to continue so I’ll try to get back to it in the very near future. If you ever met Tim, would you let me know? I’m making a little collection of the various ways people were touched by his life.

In the meantime, Tim’s family and I wish to say a heartfelt thanks to you for all the expressions of love and sympathy we have received. With gratitude and prayers for a blessed year ahead for us all,


Mimi and why I love murder mysteries



PowersMarena1940sThe summers I spent with my grandmother Mimi and my grandfather Da weren’t all ordinary work in the house, yard, garden or farm. I did my share of exploring and excavating the sand hill dirt for arrowheads. Found a few, too.

My brother Bud, young uncle Mike and I climbed our share of chinaberry trees, stringing tobacco twine and tin cans for telephones or walkie-talkies. Police detectives! Soldiers! Spies! We quarreled over who’d be the good guys since no-one wanted to be the enemy – they always lost.

I felt my share of itchy sawdust inside my jeans from zooming down the sawdust piles on makeshift sleds of pine bark. I received my fair share of maypop hand grenade blasts, coating the outside of my jeans with more sawdust. Red bugs loved sawdust as much as I did, I discovered. Kerosene in the bathwater! Mimi scrubbed our jeans with lye soap, muttering under her breath words not understandable to young ears, probably not repeatable either.

But some days it rained and some days it was just too hot to play outside. One such afternoon I was helping Mimi with butterbean shelling when the mailman’s car pulled up to the edge of the yard. Mimi set down her pan, shook out her apron, and walked out to the mailbox. She pulled out catalogs addressed to Occupant or to grandpa, sorted through duns and circulars, and that’s when our day became a bit more fun. Her True Crime magazine and Reader’s Digest had arrived.

Mimi and Da got the Florence newspaper delivered bright and early every morning. In the mail, Da got his farm-to-market bulletins and Popular Mechanics and Farmer’s Almanac. In a pinch these would do for light reading, if you were bored enough. But Mimi subscribed to True Crime and Reader’s Digest, McCall Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, Woman’s Day, and Red Book!

Back inside the house, we took a break. Mimi leaned back in her armchair with her feet propped up, I sprawled on the sofa by the window and she handed me the Reader’s Digest. She kept the True Crime.

Mimi loved murder mysteries. She enjoyed short stories and hard news. Biographical articles. Recipes. Gardening, repairing, sewing, buying and selling, but she loved adventure stories and murder mysteries. And I learned to read and enjoy them too, right along with the short stories, hard news, even the Farmer’s Almanac and Popular Mechanics.

On days when I had no playmates for company, I created my own. I meandered along ditch banks from one end of the tobacco fields to the other, ignoring blackberry brambles and sandspurs as I plotted mysteries of my own. I foiled many dastardly deeds as I went, demolishing dirt clods and bad guys. In my stories I always won the heart of the brave detective and became the toast of the town, or something equally wonderful.

When school time rolled around, not only did I head for new classes with new teachers and new classmates, I headed for the library. Nancy Drew. The Hardy Boys. Mignon Eberhardt. Agatha Christie. My parents didn’t subscribe to all the magazines that Mimi did, but I discovered the library got copies too so I didn’t miss out in those months away from Mimi’s stacks.

Today, I still love murder mysteries. I have a collection of my own that grows by leaps and bounds since the advent of E-Bay. I no longer stroll along ditch banks, tobacco fields or blackberry vines, today I just peddle away on my exercise bike. But I still plot my own adventure stories and murder mysteries as I go, and still us good guys always win… Thank you, Mimi!

(Reprinted from S.C. Family Memories 2010, published as Mimi, my ordinary grandmother Part 2)

Mimi, my ordinary grandmother



MimiAndMeMamaCatAndKitten2Growing up I seldom got to have interesting vacations like other kids did, like up at Blue Ridge, down at Myrtle Beach, or over at Santee. All we could afford was ordinary vacations, and as their firstborn grandchild I spent a lot of summers with my mother’s parents (D.W. and Marena Powers) on their farm outside of Florence.

Mother was a black-haired Irish beauty married to a handsome blue-eyed Englishman. Her parents were called Mimi and Da, nicknames for Grandma and Grandpa. I loved her, but Mimi was just an ordinary grandma. She was just under five feet tall and maybe weighed a hundred pounds. She had fair skin, twinkling brown eyes, and grayish-auburn hair never styled except for funerals when she let a neighbor give her a curl.

Bright and early in the mornings, Mimi put on an ordinary housedress that she’d hand-sewn herself from flower-printed feed sacks. Theirs was just an ordinary farmhouse heated with fireplaces and a trash-burner in the kitchen, where Mimi prepared our breakfast. She started with ordinary grits cooked in a cast-iron pot for an hour or so. She flavored the grits with butter hand-churned the ordinary way, dashed with a little salt and a few drops of yellow food coloring. She sliced and fried slabs of bacon and scrambled ordinary eggs from her laying hens. There were ordinary buttermilk biscuits stuffed with homemade strawberry jam.

“Don’t spend the day in your pajamas,” Mimi warned as she left me to my own devices. I explored the chifforobe which served as a closet in my bedroom, full of old hats and shoes. I could hear her humming “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes” as Mimi swished her broom-straw broom across the linoleum. “Tch, tch, tch,” she’d say, her way of cussing the sandhill dirt tracked in on Da’s boots. After a while the front screen door slammed. I followed her outside and pestered her with questions as she constructed a fresh yard rake.

She let me choose skinny althea branches for my own rake. For hers, she trimmed twigs and leaves off a few chinaberry limbs, bunched them up and wrapped tobacco twine round and round for a handle. With a “Umm, umm, umm,” she tackled the trash in the front yard. “Make a pile! We’ll have a bonfire!” And so we did.

One day we started putting in tobacco. I had to earn my keep according to Da, so he set me to handing two or three tobacco leaves at a time to a stringer. By noon I’d made a whole dollar! While we did the hard work, Mimi did the ordinary stuff and fixed lunch for us and the farm hands. She just wrung the necks of two or three fryers, plucked the feathers, cleaned and fried the meat (she saved me the wishbone), boiled the beans and potatoes and turnip greens and baked more biscuits.

Before we could come in to eat, Mimi made Da and me wash our hands in a bowl of tomato juice left over from slicing tomatoes. That took the tobacco gum off, and then her homemade lye soap took off the tomato juice. Finally we sat down to eat, Da said “Thank the Lord for dinner” and we dug in. Mimi kept filling bowls and platters and tea glasses.

The ordinary things had to be done after the meal, like scrubbing pots and pans and feeding Da’s hound dogs. Mimi sang “When They Ring Those Golden Bells” amidst all the banging and clanging in the kitchen. It didn’t sound too bell-like to me, so I wandered outside again.

For a while after lunch, Da and some other men congregated out in the yard, circled round an upturned Pepsi-Cola crate. Bottle-caps would plop, plop, plop around the checker board, followed by “Crown me!” or “Got cha!” I didn’t get what the fun was in it, myself. They wouldn’t let me play.

When the game broke up, they went back to the barn and I went looking for Mimi. I was bored with the doll she’d made from dried corn shucks, feed-sack scraps for a dress and corn silk for hair. I decided to help with her butter bean shelling. “You have to get the beans not too little, not too big,” she said, and popped open a couple of hulls to show me the difference. So much trouble over ordinary old beans, I thought.

That first summer when August rolled around Mama and Daddy came to collect me. Da gave me my “pay for helping out” with a twinkle in his eye: three crisp dollar bills. Mimi hugged me tight and slipped me a brown paper package — a cheese and cookie sandwich for the ride home. She whispered, “Come back real soon, you hear,” and that was that. I munched and wondered as we drove back to town, what exciting stories would the other kids tell for What I Did on Summer Vacation? When it came my turn, I just mumbled, “I had to go stay with my grandma on the farm.” I made it a short story.

I didn’t understand how extraordinary Mimi was until she had been dead for twenty years. I discovered she had been a school teacher when she met, loved and married a railroad man. She retired from teaching to raise a family. The railroad had massive layoffs and Da became first a truck farmer, then just a farmer.

Those summers, Mimi taught me how to sing while you work, how to help your neighbor, how to enjoy your own company, how to use your brain and your imagination and your heart, and I thought it was all so ordinary. Thank you, Mimi. How I wish I’d appreciated you, your full worth’s worth, while you were living.

(Reprinted from S.C. Family Memories, 2010)

Experiment drawing to a close

(Reposted from old blog on Blogger Tuesday, January 19, 2010)

USFlagThe experiment of republic-style government in America is being closed down, I think. We have had over 200 years of it now. We should have had it right by now, but in these last few years we seem to have made a mess of it. I think we are seeing it end before our very eyes.

The first government was established in the Garden when, after the fall, God put Adam in charge of the family unit. He was assigned to be the decision-maker. By the time of Moses, a multi-layered organizational structure was needed to help handle those decisions.

Then came the day that Israel demanded a different form of government and God let them have it. They wanted a king, not a priest. Of course, that didn’t work out too well…

Over the thousands of years of human history many forms of governing have been tried: dictatorships, monarchies, republics and everything in between. In some eras and some parts of the world, years of anarchy separated these governmental forms.

Certain types seem to outlast others, their longevity depending on many factors. The culture. The societal structure. Character, personality and intelligence, education, wisdom, determination and zeal of leaders. Number of advisers. Number of subjects. Wealth or lack of natural and human resources.

Some forms don’t last. Government by committee doesn’t last. Benevolent dictatorship or monarchy last longer. But few nation-wide governmental experiments last more than a couple of hundred years, and ours may have run its course. America doesn’t resemble the country I grew up in.

What’s next? Socialism? That’s been tried multiple times elsewhere and failed each time. Humans who can never be perfect and don’t really love their fellow man claim it’s just never been done right. But like every other imperfect human they won’t be able to keep their fingers out of the public till. That try will fail too.

We’ll see. Whoever it is that chooses, and I believe somebody is out there doing the choosing, is watching this American experiment wind down. I’m interested to see what develops over the next decade.